The Child, Society and the World.
It was my first year teaching in the Montessori lower elementary environment. I began my teaching career teaching high school, and was progressively making my way through the younger age groups. So far, I had taught every age group but Year 1–3. I have to admit, I was nervous about the children having separation anxiety and about getting through my first day with 18 first graders. But nothing prepared me for the parent who requested to have her child segregated from the older children in class.
I thought that perhaps she was unsure of the mixed- or multi- age culture found in the Montessori environment. I started to explain the reason behind grouping children ages 6–9 in the same classroom, but she was resolute in her opinion that her tiny daughter would not manage around “big, wild boys.” I quickly scanned the roster and noticed that her older son, a third year himself, was also in the class. This gave me a great opening to discuss the matter. Our conversation went something like this:
Thankfully, our discussion reassured Mrs. Howe, and she felt quite comfortable with Erin beginning in the class. As much as our conversation helped, seeing the third years working so seriously on how to be good mentors for their new classmates really convinced her.
And they really were good mentors.They formed a welcoming committee and made lists of what they needed to show and teach the younger students on the first day. They showed the first years how to unroll and roll their work mat, how to make a snack, where the bathroom was, how to take work from the shelves, and more. They sat with the younger ones at lunch and organized games for them at recess. They made sure the first years took everything home and walked them to the door at the end of the day. The next morning, they made sure each person was greeted with a smile. The first years regarded the older students as their own special heroes. These older third year students were now their best friends, who made them feel safe and secure in their new environment. Gradually, the first year students were able to function more independently in the classroom, but those friendships lasted the entire year. The experience remained with the younger students, preparing the way for when in turn, they became the mentors.
Mixed-age grouping in the Montessori environment
Education for Human Development.
It is interesting that conventional education has moved away from the mixed-age classroom in favor of single grades. It may seem that having a single-age classroom would be easier since, in theory, the children would all be at the same level. However, nothing could be farther from the truth. Within the both single- and mixed-age classrooms, you will find children with a variety of abilities.
What makes the mixed-age classroom unique is the amount of peer-to-peer teaching and learning that takes place.Children are more apt to learn from their peers than from adults. The older children serve as role models, not only socially but academically as well.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Monday, August 8, 2016.