It is always interesting to see how new students adjust and interact with one another in a new social environment and there is never a dull moment. Some children naturally gravitate to one another while others shy away from their new classmates and want to work by themselves. Age is also a variable with regard to peer interactions as the majority of first year Montessori preschoolers (2 & 3 yrs) are typically not at a point developmentally where they are eager to interact with their peers at a cooperative level.
This is one of the reasons why young preschoolers enjoy the Montessori Practical Life activities so much as they enable the youngest preschoolers to refine their fine motor control while becoming completely absorbed in the various activities. Young Montessori students enjoy working independently and feel so proud of their big work!
There are five main stages of play, and each stage is very much apparent in a Montessori preschool environment.
The Montessori Stages of Play: Students Meeting New FriendsThe youngest preschoolers tend to keep to themselves and engage in “solitary play”, meaning they are completely engrossed in their own activities without showing interest in the other children. The next stage is the “onlooker play” where the student begins to notice and observe others around him/her and may even modify their own play after watching someone else. The third stage is “parallel play” whereby two Montessori preschoolers may be working with a similar activity, but on a floor mat beside one another, not together. The fourth stage is “associative play” where two students will engage in an activity together, but in a very loosely organized manner. The last stage is usually observed with the older preschoolers and is called “cooperative play”. In this last stage, students work together to achieve a common goal, such as two children working with the blocks to create a castle. No matter what stage or level a child is at, Montessori preschool teachers need to be respectful of their needs and guide accordingly.
At ages four and five, students are typically much quicker at bonding with one another and can often create friendships with ease. For this age group, a big part of Montessori preschool is the social aspect and once they have created bonds with a few of their peers, they usually feel more comfortable and more at ease with their Montessori environment. For this reason, I usually try to create opportunities for students of this age to work together, especially at the beginning of the year. For the two and three year age group, I find it works well to create opportunities for them to bond with the older children in the Montessori classroom and the older students are usually very proud to help their younger classmates.
My three-year-old student, Jordan tends to keep busy for the first hour and then starts to fade and wander around aimlessly. A few days ago, I paired him with a kindergarten student and they worked together on an art project for quite some time. It was the perfect way to refocus Jordan and he had no difficulty finding ‘work’ once he had completed the art project.
Since then, I have noticed that Jordan often gravitates to that same girl when he is tired or looking for comfort and she is always eager to lend a hand and give him a hug when he’s feeling down. It is so special to see them interacting in a way that an older sibling might with his/her younger brother or sister. At such a young age, it is incredible to observe such a strong support system and it reinforces in my mind just how beneficial the mixed age group of a Montessori environment truly is!
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Friday, September 17, 2010.