An essential part of the learning process at early formative years is interaction between children and their peers. The Montessori education approach considers multi-age grouping as a key factor of kids’ wholesome social development. In a prepared, supportive environment, children develop interdependence and a sense of social belonging, as well as learn how to be a part of a preschool family, where each child feels his/her value and is eager to bring contribution to the classroom community.
Though children learn within a diverse group, their individual differences are clearly defined and appreciated. Each child is treated as an individual with his/her own intrinsic needs, interests and abilities. In the Montessori classroom, little discoverers work at their own level of understanding and development. They experience neither pressure nor obtrusion from the outside. Instead, teachers encourage children to work to the value of their individuality, either in small multi-age groups or on their own.
Obviously, some children advance quicker in some areas than the others, and teachers adhere to their developmental needs by challenging them with more complex materials. When kids have difficulty managing with particular tasks, they are welcome to focus on those areas until they are ready to move forward.
Peculiarities of Montessori Multi-age Classes
One of the main things, according to Maria Montessori, is that children should work in groups of different ages. Generally, Montessori classrooms have a 3-year span among kids. Thus, there are groups of children aged between three and six, six and nine and so on. Multi-age grouping is especially valuable for kids of 3-6 years, since at such an early age, they seek routine, but not change. Throughout the preschool program, they come to the same classroom with the same teacher and friends. When children develop in the same social and physical environment, they can gain confidence and build long-term relationships with peers.
Through activities for preschoolers in multi-age groups, kids learn how to be social, while living in a single, friendly preschool family. Older children provide support and guidance to the younger ones. Little ones watch their older peers working on challenging tasks that they themselves would like to try, whereas older children develop courtesy and patience.
Advantages of Mixed Age Group Education
• Education comes naturally
At the age of 3 to 6 years, children are prone to absorb new information like sponges, even if they do not formally have a lesson. They can even not realize they are exposed to learning simply by being a part of a multi-age community. Kids become sensitive to each other’s’ needs, involve in mutual help and show empathy. In this context, the Montessori education environment helps kids develop naturally without stress and overpressure.
• Learning from each other
In the Montessori classroom, children gain new knowledge through observation. Younger children get prepared for later complicated activities that the older ones are involved in. Little ones also do not need to wait for the assistance of a teacher, as they can always apply for help of a more experienced older peer. This motivates younger ones to practice their skills to catch up with older kids whom they respect and admire.
At the same time, older ones learn to be helpful and responsible for less knowledgeable and mature kids, whose needs and abilities can be diverse. They gain appreciation from younger ones and can build their self-esteem through achievements and accomplishments of others. As a result, such proactive cooperation enables to bring about a generation of thoughtful and peaceful grown-ups in the future.
Year after year, children stay among the same teachers and classroom peers. Thus, teachers can better get acquainted with children and learn their personalities, including developmental levels, learning abilities, traits as well as strength and weak areas, where kids may need assistance. At the same time, children can learn how to communicate openly, respect each other and build strong friendships. Though, at early age, friendships are more fleeting, making deep bonds with peers help them become more cooperative in relationships and overcome fear of participation in collaborative play activities.
For older kids, teaching and assisting younger peers throughout preschool activities allows to acquire leadership skills. At an early age, leadership comes with responsibility and complex mental work. It cannot be taught in any way, but has to be gained through experience, when older kids grasp new things, relate, reason and explain them to others. Such type of interaction resembles real life and teaches children how to “play” different roles and cooperate with people of various ages.
• Compassion and care
In the Montessori environment fosters compassion and care as an important part of kids’ spiritual and social growth. Between the ages of 1 to 4, children develop emotionally in many ways and begin to understand causes and consequences of their feelings.
Cross-curricular learning in the Montessori classroom encourages kids to feel a small part of the universe, where everyone has a goal to achieve. At such a young age, children experience varied emotions, and get insights into acceptable and unacceptable behavior that comes along with such emotions. Compassion and care are cultivated through collaboration, sharing and helping others.
Promoting peace and tolerance among children is of paramount importance in the Montessori environment. As a part of the curriculum, kids are invited to participate in group meetings and listen to their peers. They learn to publicly accept praise and acknowledgement as well as admit their mistakes and make apologies. Children learn to be respectful and honest towards each other, and discuss classroom concerns without waiting for conflict escalation that can affect the majority of the class.
Montessori children are believed to be better prepared for adulthood – both socially and academically. When they grow up, they are likely to become better listeners and decision-makers with enthusiasm for lifelong learning. Through various challenging activities, kids also develop a positive perception about their ability to achieve certain goals. This makes them more achievement-oriented, ambitious and motivated in life.
Through Montessori preschool activities , children learn not only to be motivated, but also responsible, kind and confident. They learn all the essential skills, including positive cooperation and communication, which is an integral part of person’s ability to become successful in life.