One key element that you’ll find at most Montessori Schools is the mixed age classroom. Sometimes parents are curious about the reasoning behind this particular element of Montessori classrooms, so I thought I’d take a moment to discuss why Montessorians consider it an important part of our educational philosophy.
One thing that always comes up for me when I think about the importance of mixed age classrooms is the interaction between the younger and older students. Having students of different ages allows the older students to act as peer tutors to their younger classmates. In my opinion, the opportunity to act as a peer tutor is reason enough to have mixed ages. Helping younger classmates offers a myriad of benefits to older students. Helping reinforces lessons already learned. I would even argue that learning happens best while teaching. The ability to teach is also a sign of concept mastery. This means that the teacher can use peer tutor as one of his/her tools of assessment.
Additionally, peer tutoring builds self-esteem. This is true for all students, but it’s nice to have a larger age range so struggling older students can have a chance to act as peer tutors for younger ones. If the class is made up of only same-age students, the struggling student’s opportunities to help will be few and far between. With a mixed age classroom, he/she will have more of an chance to build up his/her confidence in the areas where he/she’s feeling insecure. As an added bonus, he/she’ll be receiving extra reinforcement in much-needed academic areas.
Also, I have seen many, many distracted students able to focus by helping a peer. It seems to act as a magic centering wand, rather like putting a carrot in front of horse. And if you pair an unfocused student with an unmotivated one, you may just feel like SuperTeacher. Go for it!
Younger students benefit from mixed ages, too. Since they are constantly exposed to the work of the older students, they learn from observation. Older students don’t just model behavior, but the next step in their education. This can drive the younger students and motivate them to learn.
Another important aspect of Montessori mixed age grouping is the way that it builds community. Since only a third of the class (ideally) leaves at the end of each year, there is always a core group which stays. This group acts as the heart of classroom. I have always felt that my classroom was tightly-knit. I realized this year that that is because of my mixed aged demographic. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Mixed ages aren’t the only thing that define a Montessori classroom, but they are an important element. I highly recommend you stop by your child’s classroom and see if you can’t catch one of those moments of peer tutoring. They’re truly magical.