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I am considering putting my daughter in a day care which takes children 2 to 3 years old as of their start date for the year, August 30. My daughter will turn 3 on September 5, so technically she qualifies but she will certainly be the oldest in her class, and nearly a year older than some of the youngest in her class.

This day care has multiple other personal advantages for me and my family, but we are most concerned about delaying her development in terms of social skills and language skills by being around younger kids. The program is a full work day, 5 day a week program, and continues with the same group of kids through May. Are there any studies which would suggest whether there is any harm to being around younger children all day for 5 days a week?

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Good question! My son will be in this position next year, when the older kids in his day care will all start school, leaving him as the oldest. One thing you might want to add to your question is how big of a gap would exist between your daughter and the next oldest kid. You say she's nearly a year older than some of the youngest, but how much older is she than the rest? How many children will be within 6 months of her age? 3 months? 1 month? This will help determine the answers. – Beofett Mar 28 '12 at 14:37
@Beofett I don't know, but if you assume births are random (which they're not), you'd expect she'd be 6 months older than average. The class is for 2-3 year olds, and anyone in that range as of August 30 can be in her class. The school year is September to May, so she would be in this "oldest" situation with a consistent group of kids for about 9 months. – Tal Fishman Mar 28 '12 at 17:24
up vote 4 down vote accepted

Generally, there's not much developmental difference between children who are 30 months old and who are 36 months old. In specific cases, yes, there can be a significant difference, but since every child develops at different rates, it is entirely possible that a 30 month old child will be more advanced in some areas than a 36 month old. When the difference gets down to 3 months or less, the developmental gap will usually be so small as to be non existent.

There are, of course, exceptions to this. My son, 18 months, goes to a daycare where the next oldest child is 17 months. However, the 17 month old was born 2 months premature, and is significantly behind on many developmental milestones. My son is right on target for most physical milestones, and significantly advanced for verbal milestones. The contrast between the two of them is striking. However, they seem to get along just fine, and engage in parallel play (the other child tends to follow my son around whenever possible). This is a bit of an extreme example, though, and I think you'll find that most kids that close in age will be so similar that it will be difficult to determine who is older simply by watching them.

I could find no specific studies on the impact of being the oldest child in a daycare setting, but at wider age ranges it would seem to have some parallels with birth order within a family. On that count, there are actually studies that indicate the oldest child in a family tends to have a higher IQ. This is more likely attributable to the parental interactions than any social dynamic between the children, however.

This list of characteristics associated with birth order, however, might have more relevance since peer interaction seems to play a larger part:

First Child

  • Is only child for period of time; used to being center of attention.
  • Believes must gain and hold superiority over other children.
  • Being right, controlling often important.
  • May respond to birth of second child by feeling unloved and neglected.
  • Strives to keep or regain parents’ attention through conformity. If this failed, chooses to misbehave.
  • May develop competent, responsible behavior or become very discouraged.
  • Sometime strives to protect and help others.
  • Strives to please.

A study on family daycare in Israel did find some correlation between mixed age vs. homogeneous age daycare groups and the quality of the care provided:

The best quality of interaction between caregivers and children is found in groups where the difference between youngest and oldest child is between 13 and 24 months (M. Rosenthal, 1990). When the group was fairly age homogeneous and the children were mostly less than 2 years old, the caregivers usually offered a poorer quality physical environment, fewer educationally oriented interactions, less frequent group interaction, and were more restrictive, than caregivers caring for children age 2-3 in more age-heterogeneous groups. The children in these groups tended in turn to engage less frequently in fine motor play, have fewer positive peer interactions, and were somewhat more frequently emotionally distressed.

It seems that a wider range of children, particularly in the 2-3 year category your daughter is in, is preferable.

Along more anecdotal lines, I found this blog entry by a family childcare provider who feels that being the oldest in the group is a positive position:

Being the oldest in a group is a positive position that teaches a child a great deal.

  • nurturing skills: taking care of others, being kind and helpful this oldest position builds life skills that all parents want their children to have.
  • leadership skills: depending on where the child falls in their own sibling order or if they have a sibling, this could be the only time the baby, middle child or an only get’s to be the oldest. They finally get to facilitate play and branch out into areas of play that they may not have had an opportunity to explore before, it will promote creativity, and exploration.
  • builds confidence: by giving a little responsibility with simple things, setting the table, helping the little ones with coats and shoes, you are setting up the oldest to succeed.
  • hone problem solving skills: being the oldest, they finally get to practice all those skills with the young ones, how to share, use your words, and keeping things safe just to name a few. They get to practice and be the one that everyone looks to for the good example.

Here is some more anecdotal information from's forum.

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All this focus on weak correlations and between-group differences (e.g., 2.5 yo's vs. 3.0 yo's, segregation of Olympics by sex), but within-group ones often swamp them (or tend at least to be very, very important and substantial). In most respects, especially maturity-related (here I estimate I am on par with a median-maturity individual who ages about three times slower than I), I am definitely unrepresentative of middle-aged people (except in terms of visual appearance and chronological age, but the latter is tautological/automatic), and were there such a thing as – Vandermonde Dec 15 '15 at 0:39
one person representative of all such people, I shouldn't exist. Like disability, most immaturity is invisible and certainly can't be read off from a typically irrelevant number or statistic such as '~35 years have elapsed between his birth and today'. Instead, ask yourself what your (or your child's) real age (for social intelligence or some other purpose or dimension/metric) is -- even if you doubt it, you likely know yourself or them better than (to trust) some acephalous measure unless by coincidence it matches your particular and idiosyncratic situation which it doesn't know about. – Vandermonde Dec 15 '15 at 0:39
That would be quite an insightful, albeit excessively wordy (you even used a word I had to look up, although it was largely the fact that you misused it that caused me to miss the meaning) commentary... if this were a question about middle-age adults, or even pre-teen children. However, since the topic is toddlers, as the true focus of my answer indicates, there is very little meaning to asking what the child's "real age" is (for social intelligence, yadda-yadda) at that age. – Beofett Dec 15 '15 at 1:18
Are you talking about 'acephalous'? I didn't know any more appropriate term to communicate that age, that figure that so many are fixated on, has no understanding whatsoever and adequately reflects... how long one has been alive, and that's about it. (There is really no deep significance here; pity to the masses searching for it.) Anyway, I wasn't talking about present-day peers in particular; perfectly stereotypically average one-year-olds were about neck-and-neck with me as a (chronological) five-year-old, if so-and-so authoritative normative milestones concerning the person I 'should' be – Vandermonde Dec 15 '15 at 3:06
-- dammit, I'm me, don't try to force me into your mold -- are to be trusted. (By which I mean socially, which is probably most important and especially so if it's one's 'weakest link' or limiting factor, but not in terms of book smarts or on-paper/in-theory ability. In that department most people I knew were falling behind or treading water (with respect to me; I wouldn't know with respect to some unknown reference point).) Though I guess that four years is a smaller difference than the current gap in absolute terms, which may or may not be what's important or matters -- had IQ still – Vandermonde Dec 15 '15 at 3:06

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