The children have been fascinated with babies this month, perhaps due to the babies we see at pick up time or young guests visiting the classroom. I even noticed the children roll a yoga mat and pass it around like a baby!
Watching the children interact with babies in such a gentle manner and full of admiration made me think of all the reasons why multi-age grouping is so essential to a montessori classroom.
Mixed-age education has its roots in the one-room schoolhouse of the 19th century. Like today’s mixed-age classrooms, older children often tutored younger children. The classroom functioned much like a family in that close relationships developed, and children were both protected and nurtured. Classmates worked together with a blend of cooperation and competition and students experienced a degree of flexibility in learning progression (Leight & Rinehart, 1992).
Here are few reasons why we like multi-age grouping in our children’s house:
- We can see that the children become orderly and have a harmonious discipline. Surely doesn’t always appear this way especially at the beginning of the school year, but the effort on the part of the child is constant and when it happens it is a pure joy for all! This discipline brings people in to harmony with each other. Additional research suggests that children experience greater social isolation in same-age than in mixed-age classrooms. Classes that are highly unidimensional, a construct frequently associated with same-age grouping, are reported to have more social “stars” but also more rejected and/or neglected children. Research by Bloom suggests that the quality of young children’s (under 6) social competence accurately predicts academic as well as social competence in later grades.
- Children progress their learning at their own pace, take on challenges they are ready for without having to wait for the whole group and they can focus on the areas that are challenging without being rushed.
- Nothing challenges the younger child more than seeing an older peer able to do the activities.
- Acting as a “teacher,” older children increase their self-esteem and reinforce their knowledge. It allows all older children to be the leaders in the environment – even those children who may be shy or quiet because every child gets a chance to be a leader in 3 year multi-age groupings.
- And lastly, we cannot forget about the Absorbent Mind is only a characteristic to a chid under 6 years of age. It is what sparks my work with children of this age every day! This ability to learn effortlessly by simply being in the environment goes away as the child grows older and schooling becomes hard work. We want the environment to be rich with experiences to feed the hungry Absorbent Mind. A young child often says “Nothing” if asked “What did you do at school today?” Due to the Absorbent Mind the “nothing” days can be very productive days and consist of noticing an older child cleaning up a spill, using the bathroom independently, inviting a friend to have snack, patiently waiting to have a turn washing hands, observing an older child write, do math, pour water in land and water forms, speak the kind language, hear someone play bells and now we can hear the violin! The “nothing” days are busy days as well!
- One of the main jobs of a young human being (under 6 years old) is to adjust to the norms of society. Sometimes it takes testing the limits to discover the boundaries (pouring too much milk in a cup makes a spill, taking something away from someone makes someone sad and leads to an apology, getting into a disagreement helps a child discover agreement, making someone sad sometimes allows a child to truly appreciate what it takes making someone happy).
Patience is a huge part of what is takes on behalf of everyone in the community to lead to the social cohesion. A multi-age grouping provides an opportunity for all children to be patient and kind in a most natural way. This patient cooperation while working without envy leads to true discipline and harmony that comes from within.
I feel magically captivated to watch Jennifer do violin/music work with the children every day. It is striking to notice the similarities of the Suzuki and Montessori methods with the biggest similarity being the focus on the development of the whole child.
Jennifer recently introduced the concept of singing “solo” and as a part of the explanation to the children she focused on “singing from the heart”. It was moving to see the children place a hand on their heart as they took turns singing.
Both methods, Suzuki and Montessori emphasize that the environment is the key to the development. Talent in the Suzuki approach and intelligence in the Montessori approach are not viewed as inborn, but are developed as the young child interacts and adjusts to his or her environment. Dr. Suzuki based his approach on the belief that “Musical ability is not an inborn talent but an ability which can be developed. Any child who is properly trained can develop musical ability, just as all children develop the ability to speak their mother tongue. The potential of every child is unlimited.”
The environment Jennifer offers at Zen Montessori to children is unique in its set-up. With Suziki’s method, there is usually a learning triangle of parent, student and a teacher. The parent is required to attend the lessons (once or twice a week) and practice every day with the child. In addition, music schools require a parent to attend months of lessons without the child in order to be able to provide the nourishing learning environment at home.
Jennifer takes the role of a practice parent and combines it with being the teacher every day! You can see the child’s eyes light up when she plays a beautiful yet complex piece with ease and grace, inspiring the child to try harder and giving the child hope that someday he or she will get there. Children also have a chance to practice together making the music experience truly a social one! They often plan their day to do the violin practice together. The violin work fits right in with all the other Montessori materials on the shelf. A child gets to make a choice when to practice similar to choosing which Montessori material the child would like to work with throughout the morning work cycle.
As the child grows older and gets ready to graduate our Children’s House there is an opportunity to transition into a traditional partnership of parent, student and a teacher. By this point, the child has acquired a skill of playing a violin and has moved past the initial very challenging part of learning the instrument. Even if continuing violin is not a choice upon graduation, the benefits of the exposure to it at a very young age are simply astonishing: concentration and focus, feeling comfortable in front of an audience, determination to try difficult things, dealing with mistakes effectively, a medium for expressing emotion, becoming a sensitive listener with a fine musical ear, developing self-confidence and a lifelong love of music.
This cooperative spirit, coupled with an empowering learning environment and the joy of sharing music with friends lead to incredible progress and skill level that children are very happy and proud to share! Dr. Suzuki believed that learning beautiful music helps children develop into better human beings, people with more compassion, love and appreciation of others. It is out dream to help children be happy, productive and joyous human beings!