One of the questions that parents often ask when they are visiting All Stars Montessori is why there is not a different preschool classroom for each age. They often wonder if their child will be “too young” or “too old” in a class with children of all ages. They have visited other preschools where the classrooms are divided up in one-year age spans, and they are surprised to see a preschool classroom with 3, 4 and 5 year-olds all working together. Maria Montessori believed in creating an environment that enables children to grow and learn in an authentic way. An important element of this approach is the mixed aged classrooms.
During the early learning years, children develop at different paces. The Montessori approach takes this into consideration and focuses on the individuality of each child. One of the ways that a mixed age Montessori classroom benefits the child is by allowing them to excel in one area even if they are still gaining confidence in another. The Montessori classroom is prepared with a variety materials available in each of the curriculum areas (Practical Life, Sensorial, Mathematics, Language Arts). In this environment, children can explore and learn according to their own interest and level of readiness, no matter what their skill level may be.
For example, a 3-year old child may be showing exceptional confidence in mathematics and in a traditional “3-year old classroom” appropriately challenging mathematic materials will not be available for them to explore. In the same way, a 5-year old may still be gaining confidence in Language Arts and in a “5-year old classroom” they would not have the materials they need to help them develop foundational skills. In either of these situations, children end up feeling bored and unchallenged or discouraged and frustrated which can lead to behavior struggles.
Another benefit of a mixed age classroom is the opportunity for children to develop important leadership and interpersonal skills. Because a Montessori classroom is child-centered, with a teacher serving as more of a guide, the mixed age environment allows older children to mentor their younger peers. As they do, they can reinforce and consistently build upon previously learned concepts. And because children learn best through imitation, younger children are eager to follow in the footsteps of their older peers. They are encouraged as they watch and learn, believing that they can do it, too! (Of course, the teacher is always observing and available if the children need further guidance.)
In the real world, communities are made up of people of all different ages and backgrounds and appreciating these differences is an important social skill. In a mixed age classroom, children grow up helping one another. They develop mutual respect and cooperation, as well as self-confidence and empathy. Having the opportunity to develop these skills when they are young will help them grow into successful adults with solid relationship skills.
“The main thing is that the groups should contain different ages, because it has great influence on the cultural development of the child. This is obtained by the relations of the children among themselves. You cannot imagine how well a young child learns from an older child; how patient the older child is with the difficulties of the younger.” – Maria Montessori