One of the core learning principles separating Montessori education from most mainstream systems is the use of multi-age classrooms. Maria Montessori believed that one of most effective ways for children to learn, is from one another – with this in mind, Montessori school age grouping is typically: birth-18 months (infant), 18 months -3 years (toddler), 3-6 years (pre-school), 6-9 years & 9-12 years (primary school) and then 12-14 years & 15-18 years (secondary school).
Sir Ken Robinson, in his world famous TED Talk Changing Education Paradigms, said: “Students are educated in batches, according to age, as if the most important thing they have in common is their date of manufacture.” Age division sounds ridiculous when phrased like this but the truth is that Maria Montessori was on to something. Some of the benefits of a multi-age classroom structure are as follows:
Learning at own pace: Children in multi-age classrooms tend to have a little more flexibility when it comes to mastering skills within a specific timeframe. This is because children are typically able to work at their own pace without the added pressure of keeping up with the whole group, or even being held back by the whole group.
Building strong relationships: rather than moving on to ‘the next year’, children spend a good two or three years in the same group, which offers the time to build firm, lasting friendships with children of different ages (which is especially beneficial for the children who take longer to bond with others).
Sense of community: there is power in ‘the group’ and in the context of a classroom, the group that has time to flourish nurtures a sense of stability and confidence in its members.
Mentors and leaders: when children spend more than one year in the same class, they are afforded the opportunity to be both a mentor and a leader – a peer mentor when they learn together with others and a leader when helping and encouraging the younger children in the group.
Familiarity: being in the same classroom for a few years gives directresses the change to truly learn each individual child’s learning abilities, style, and developmental level to better be able to set the learning agenda as well as build on strengths and work on weaknesses.
Mirroring real-life: adults aren’t grouped together by age in the real world; we have to coexist with people who are different to us in all aspects of life. Is it not more beneficial for children to learn how to manage many very different relationships simultaneously, and slowly get used to the complexity of life; to develop the ability to play different roles given the circumstances, and not just switch between equal (relating to their peers) and submitted (related to authority)?
For more great reading on the concept of multi-age classrooms, have a look at “Why We Use Mixed Age Groups in Montessori”, “Montessori Basics: The Benefits Of Multi-Age Grouping” and “Why dividing us by age in school doesn’t make sense” – all of which have informed this article.
If you have any questions regarding Montessori schooling and methodology, we’d love to chat more with you – please visit our contact page and we’ll be in touch.