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If you’re trying to find the right preschool program for your child, pay close attention to the age of her classmates.

If you’re trying to find the right preschool program for your child, pay close attention to the age of her classmates.

A national study suggests classrooms with children of different ages can hurt academic growth for older children.

“While there has been some enthusiasm for mixed-age classrooms, our results suggest there may be a significant downside for older children,” co-author Kelly Purtell said.

She is an Ohio State assistant professor of human sciences and faculty associate at the Crane Center for Early Childhood Research and Policy, which conducts multidisciplinary research that improves children’s learning environments at home, in school and in their communities.

The study of 2,829 children shows that when 3-year-olds made up just 20 percent of a class, older children lost nearly two months of academic growth in a school year.

When younger children made up half of the class, 4-year-olds lost four to five months of development.

Additionally, the study didn’t show any gains among younger classmates, despite being surrounded by older children.

Interacting with younger classmates isn’t as beneficial for older children as interacting with peers of their own age. Also, teachers change their curriculum to accommodate a wider range of levels, which leaves older children learning material they already know.

As of 2009, 75 percent of Head Start classrooms, a federal preschool program for children ages 3 to 5, were mixed-age. Researchers say the study should prompt educators to find ways to create more cognitively stimulating environments for older students.