A Montessori environment (also known as classroom) groups a 3 year age span among the children. In Pre-K, it’s 1 -3 and 3-6 years old. In Lower Elementary, it’s 6-9 years old, and in Upper Elementary it’s 9-12 years old. Maria Montessori found this to be most beneficial for children and, now, educational research supports this practice, although it’s typically only found in Montessori schools.
What are the benefits of the multi-age classroom?
* Respect and care: Children learn in a natural way to respect others and to care for the little ones by mutual collaboration.
- Children learn from one another by observing and interacting with their peers.
- Young children learn higher level cognitive and social skills, not only through mental development, but also by observing others as models.
- Collaborative learning is encouraged. Older children in our environments are encouraged to give lessons to younger children and it’s amazing to watch the older child solidify what they know by teaching it to the younger child and it’s just as amazing to see a young child’s eyes focus intently on the older child as they give a lesson, This is more powerful than an adult giving a lesson. They connect more deeply with other children.
- Multi-age grouping helps children develop a sense of community and supports social development. All children have different interests and choose different work at different times. Children in this environment learn to respect others as individuals. We don’t all have to be ‘the same’ when all children are being respected for who they are.
- Children work at their own pace, which may vary in different curriculum areas. Groups are flexible and often differ depending on interest, subject matter, and/or ability.
- Curriculum and materials are multidimensional and concrete. Children re-explore the same materials at different levels. For example, the geometric solids can first be sensorially explored by a younger child. An older child may want to name them, match them to cards, or even trace and cut them out. When these materials are used often and at different levels, the opportunities for learning are endless.
- Multi-age groupings lends itself well to the inclusion of children with special needs into classrooms with developing peers. The benefits of inclusion for all children have been demonstrated and they range across all developmental and educational domains.
- Children who are given the freedom to interact with children of different ages build a sense of themselves and a sense of confidence that provides a foundation which will help them move through life with the belief that they can try new things, and not be afraid of stepping out of their comfort zone.
It is really interesting that Montessori philosophy has implemented multi-age grouping for over 100 years. Now, this concept has recently moved into the mainstream due to the work of many educational theorists and researchers. Some states are now recommending their preschools and elementary classrooms implement multi-age grouping.