Thoughts & Reflections
One of the fundamental principles of a Montessori classroom is the mixed-age environment. In the Primary classroom, this spans the two-and-a-half to six range. As any parent of multiple children knows, there is a great difference between the capacities of a two- or three-year-old, and a six-year-old. This is one of the primary reasons we can have so many children in one classroom with two guiding adults — all the children are helping each other, in one way or another.
“ The older, more experienced children are providing overt help to the other children. ”
They are showing their friends how to open their lunch containers, where to go to get a cloth for polishing, what to do when someone is using a table you want. The younger, newer children are providing opportunities to the older children to practice leadership, to experience the compassion and empathy that comes with seeing another as you used to be, to realize you have now mastered something which, not long ago, posed quite a challenge.
Another result of this mixed-age environment is that every year, approximately a third of the children are new, the oldest children have left for Elementary school, and a different group of children are now the oldest. Some children cannot imagine that they are ready for the responsibility of being the oldest, of being the ones whom they themselves have admired for the past few years. Others take on this role with relish, looking forward to all that they will now achieve and assist. Others side-step into the role, taking it on naturally, almost accidently becoming gentle, quiet, kind charismatic leaders. They are our Classroom Helpers.
As our students returned to the Montessori classroom after our Summer break, we saw all the changes that had happened while they were away. They grew taller. They came back to the materials with renewed vigor. They forgot they knew some materials, and were delighted when the materials reminded the children how they were intended to be used.
Our oldest children have moved on. We have a new group of oldest children. They were not the oldest before, and they know the responsibility this entails. Some can hardly imagine THEY are ready for this. How could they possibly be the biggest now?! This is a role they’ve subconsciously been preparing for since they were the littlest children. They’re ready, though they might not know it.
We witnessed this readiness this week.
This is one of the great gifts of the Older Child.
Not only are they capable of helping — they know how to clean a really big spill, how to tie a shoe, how to get all 27 pieces of the Trinomial back in the box correctly — their brains are also capable of breaking concentration when their assistance is required, and of returning to their work unfazed a moment later.
We all want to help. Our oldest children show us how to help with grace.
Written by:Charlotte Wood