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.