Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Montessori Mixed Age Groups and Ministry Regulations: Why Socialization Matters

NAMC montessori teacher works with young child mixed age groups ministry regulations montessori schoolsOn the practical side, our method has, moreover, the advantage of being able to draw together children of very different backgrounds. In our first Children’s Houses there were children of two-and-a-half, still too young for the simplest exercises of the senses, and children over five who, because of their attainments, could have passed after a few months into the third grade. In our schools each child advances and perfects himself according to his own individual ability….As far as the teacher is concerned, she can remain a whole day with children of such different stages of development without exhausting herself… ~Maria Montessori, The Discovery of the Child

The following question posed by a Montessori teacher highlights some of the challenges associated with maintaining mixed age groupings within the mandates of regional jurisdictions. The question also brings to the forefront the importance of the Montessori teacher as role model and guide for students, regardless of varying environmental parameters. Thank you to NAMC faculty alumnus Bree Van Nes for her thoughtful response.

Q: How would you feel about changing the age groups in a Montessori environment? Our four year olds cannot be in the same classroom as the five year olds due to Ministry regulations, which leaves us in a predicament. Our school principal wants to group the five year olds with grade one and two students. Do you think the five years olds are better alone (this is working fine) or should the age groups be redefined?
~ A confused Montessori teacher.

Montessori Mixed Age Groups and Ministry Regulations: Why Socialization Matters

A: In this instance it sounds like the Ministry has placed restrictions on the age grouping that schools are able to include in a single class setting, and it is unfortunate that they are not able to follow the traditional Montessori 3 to 6 (Preschool/Kindergarten) and 6 to 9 (grades 1-3) age grouping. I have had the opportunity for many years to implement the Montessori philosophy with a classroom community of just Kindergarten children, so I know firsthand that it is definitely feasible. I actually loved teaching Montessori Kindergarten (age 5-6) as there is so much you can do with the children because they are far more capable and confident than they were when they were younger. However, in my opinion, something was always missing in this environment. I always felt that my Montessori kindergarten students missed out on being the ‘big kids’ of the Montessori multi-age classroom and the important experience of being the leaders and helping the younger children in the classroom.

Any Montessori preschool/kindergarten teacher will attest to the fact that everything seems to come together for the kindergarten child in a Montessori 3-6 classroom. In particular, their social/emotional development and the preparations for later academic work are decidedly progressive. A big part of that can be attributed to the unique Montessori environment of the mixed age grouping.

In this Montessori casa classroom, it appears that they still adhere to the mixed age grouping without the kindergarten-aged students. In this scenario, although the preschoolers will miss out on having the guidance of the confident, capable kindergarten children it is still very much a feasible grouping for a Montessori environment. The four year olds will still act as mentors for the younger children and will still serve as role models. The three year olds will continue to be inspired by the older children and the environment should still emulate that endearing sense of community so indicative of the Montessori classroom.

two girls paint together NAMC montessori schools ministry regulations mixed age groups
The question is: should the kindergarten students be kept on their own or should they be mixed with the 6 and 7 year olds (grades 1 and 2)? I think for some kindergarten-aged students it would be a huge stretch to be included with the six and seven year olds, but overall, I do think the majority of them would rise to the challenge and would be motivated and inspired by the older children in the group. I do like the fact that they would still be a part of a mixed age grouping and by watching the older students at work in the environment, the kindergarten students would challenge themselves and look forward to future activities.

I really believe that if a school is unable to accommodate the traditional Montessori preschool/kindergarten age grouping, it is better to have the kindergarten students with the six and seven year olds rather than on their own, simply because mixed age grouping is the backbone of a harmonious Montessori environment. We all know that a Montessori classroom thrives on the mixed age grouping, and it helps to form a bond only seen in small social communities and families. Being in a class with all kindergarten students would mean that the children miss out on that very important aspect.
I hope this is helpful.

NAMC blogs that may be of further interest:
NAMC montessori schools ministry regulations mixed age groups The NAMC Classroom Guides provide helpful instruction for setting up and managing the Montessori environment.
As much as possible, NAMC’s web blog reflects the Montessori curriculum as provided in its teacher training programs. We realize and respect that Montessori schools are unique and may vary their schedules and offerings in accordance with the needs of their individual communities. We hope that our readers will find our articles useful and inspiring as a contribution to the global Montessori community.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Wednesday, January 18, 2012.

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