This weekend, I understood why Montessori was so keen on mixed age environments. We had visitors from out of town, including kids ages 11, 8, and 6. Our children were so engaged and well cared for the whole weekend I feel like I hardly even saw them. Even 5-month-old Jake got to be in on the action. To boot, the other mom noted that her kids had never seemed so grown up, busy, and happy.
I think I can now understand why my grandmother handled 8 children so well (something I find inconceivable at times): not only could they help to care for each other, but they also lived in a neighborhood teeming with kids. It reminds me that kids are incredibly self-sufficient, if we just put them in the right environment.