The Montessori Mixed-Age Classrooms
Thoughts & Reflections
When families are introduced to Montessori, one of the aspects that is often the most surprising, is the mixed-age classrooms.
It can be rather dramatic, to see a big six-year-old, working alongside a three-year-old. To even hear, this is a classroom for children from two-and-a-half to six, takes a minute to process. In Elementary classrooms, there might be children six to nine, or nine to twelve, or even six to twelve! What different capacities and interests these children have. What different materials and developments these children are undertaking.
So, why are they in the same classroom?
There are a few reasons we absolutely love having children of varying ages working and learning together. Here they are.
The children care for one another. With different ages and abilities, the children are always looking out for one another. The older children have the opportunity to care for the younger children, trying out initiative and patience, practicing zippers and tying bows, solidifying new and previously mastered knowledge. Younger children shine bright when they offer or receive help from an older child, knowing even they can wash a dish, wipe a spill, help carry a table. Your abilities do not earn you a space at the table, all are welcome, all are worthy.
The children learn from one another. Younger children admire older children so much. Older children feel a sense of responsibility and pride when helping younger children. There’s lovely conversation being modelled, new vocabulary introduced, careful syntax practiced. I might not be ready for “million” or for “verb,” but I do benefit from this language being used around me. When I am ready for this work, it comes with a beautiful emotional connection when I remember that magical big kid who did this work when I was “little.” Older children seeing a classmate unable to complete their work are reminded that they, too, were unable to finish that work, the work they’re now the expert at, and they offer kind assistance, and they are gently reminded that today’s struggle will be tomorrow’s mastery.
The children are preparing for life. How often do we actually only work with colleagues our own age? Apart from the first twelve years of school, and even then it’s limited, our lives are enriched by diverse ages, backgrounds, interests, and aptitudes. We’re learning and teaching, at every age. In a family, a child might have fallen into a specific role, only child, oldest, youngest. Being in a mixed age classroom is an opportunity to try on different roles. When you start, you’re the youngest. At some point, there will be someone younger than you. If you’re an only child, you have the joyful experience of dipping your toe in the water of the sibling relationship, or what it’s like to have a brother if it’s just you and your sister, or finding your own footing apart from your twin.
There are myriad reasons the mixed-age classroom benefits children. These are just three of our favorites.
Written by:Charlotte Snyder