What do you think of when you hear the phrase “it takes a village?”

Maybe you think of community – of taking kids to cul-de-sac cookouts and having them help bake fresh brownies for your new neighbors. Maybe you think of the difficulties of parenting – of toddler temper tantrums in public places and knowing side-eyes from other parents: Don’t worry, it takes a village.

But the crux of this ancient phrase runs deeper than we think.

Thought to originate from an African proverb, the full phrase “It takes a village to raise a child” doesn’t necessarily refer to how hard it is to raise kids, or how complicated, or how important it is that your kids get to know your new neighbors.

“It takes a village” describes how kids deserve a safe, healthy environment to grow. Being “raised by the village” empowers kids with diverse socialization and real-world experiences that foster their holistic development. Kids receive skills and wisdom from others who aren’t just their parents or just their same-age friends.

Why, then, do public schools insist on cutting kids off from the village?

How the public school system isolates kids from the village

You can picture it now: factory lines of fourth graders seated at their desks. All day, every day.

They do everything together – history, gym class, lunch, band. And every single year, for twelve years straight, they are intentionally cut off from other age groups.

Evolutionary psychologist and mixed-age socialization advocate Peter Gray said:

Older children help younger ones when they play together, and in that way they learn to lead and nurture and develop a concept of themselves as mature and caring. But little of this can occur in school, where children are forced to associate only with others of their own age and where free, unsupervised play is rare or absent.

For some unknown and murky reason, our culture has accepted this as the norm. The result is that kids are isolated from real-world activities and relationships. How can we expect fourth graders to grow and mature when they’re surrounded only by other fourth graders? The false allure of public school socialization is really just cutting kids off from the village.

In truth, kids can socialize in countless ways outside of public schools – and diversifying whom they socialize with is incredibly important to their overall growth.

The benefits of mixed-age socialization

Socialization is not just about making friends; it’s about developing fundamental life skills.

Being “raised by the village” helps kids grow up happy and thriving, feeling comfortable in their own skins and prepared for fulfilling lives. Kids learn how to interact and empathize with all different kinds of people. They’ll build healthy relationships with family, friends, and authority. They’ll learn how to communicate with different audiences, and how to collaborate effectively with people who have different life experiences.

Different Ages, Different Skills

One of the primary benefits of mixed-age socialization is the fact that kids can learn from one another.

In a traditional classroom, kids are grouped according to age, which means they only interact with kids around the same developmental level. There’s a low ceiling to what kids can learn from one another in this situation.

In a mixed-age setting, however, kids can learn from those who are older than they are, with more advanced skill sets and knowledge. The emphasis is less on the curriculum, and more on the kid. From observation alone, kids can absorb new skills, ideas, and mental models.

Take the example of the “cool” younger sibling.

If a young boy has an older sister, he will be tuned into everything she does. When she takes the training wheels off her bike, he will, too. When she jumps from the highest diving board into the pool, he will, too. Simply being in her presence stretches his ability to reach his own potential. He naturally becomes braver, bolder, and more confident in his own abilities.

Over time, as he observes how she interacts with friends and family, he will develop an uncanny maturity for his age. His language and communication skills will skyrocket. He will feel far more confident socializing with all different kinds of people.

The benefits of this relationship go both ways. While the younger brother observes, imitates, and stretches his skill sets, the older sister is mastering leadership, empathy, and what it means to be a role model.

This isn’t just a classic sibling relationship – these are the scientific benefits of mixed-age socialization at play.

Diverse Perspectives

When kids are primarily exposed to others their own age, they tend to be less tolerant and empathetic toward people who are different. But when they interact with people of different ages, they’re exposed to diverse perspectives that open their eyes to the breadth of the world. They become more understanding and accepting of others.

Kids learn important life lessons and universal truths through different perspectives. It could be from the cashier at Chick-fil-A, from an elderly woman in a retirement home, or from their Uncle John at a family barbeque. The more ages and experiences they are exposed to, the better.

Increased Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is the capacity to be aware of and healthily aligned with our emotions. High “EQ” people feel emotion strongly, but they don’t ride the highs and lows. They have a firm grasp on their own emotions. Plus, they have a deeper ability to connect with others emotionally.

Mixed-age socialization increases kids’ emotional intelligence by exposing them to different emotional states. Younger kids may have crying tantrums, while older kids may express frustration or sadness. Parents may display affection, while grandparents may express peace and tranquility.

By interacting with these emotions, children learn how to empathize and support others, building valuable emotional intelligence skills that are required throughout life.

Use mixed-age socialization to raise your kids within the village

If you want to focus on cultivating healthy socialization for your kid, it’s worth reevaluating whom they spend the majority of their time socializing with.

There are certainly benefits to socializing with kids their own age. When that’s the only socialization they’re getting, however, you’ve essentially put a ceiling on their physical, mental, and emotional potential.

Don’t shut the village out. Include your kid in family conversations. Prime their environment to meet both old and young friends. Take them to cul-de-sac cookouts, and invite others to have a hand in enriching your kid’s growth and development. And if you need some ideas on how to “prime an environment of healthy socialization,” here are 25 ways you can socialize your kid outside of public school.


Grace Smith

Grace Smith

Grace is a creative wordsmith with a zest for innovative storytelling. After getting her BA in English-Writing, she dove into the world of alternative education and hasn’t shut up about it since. On top of finding new and better ways to learn, Grace is a freelance content writer and strategist passionate about classic literature, killer cortados, and the perfect Spotify playlist.

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