Sunday, September 20, 2009

Community Life

One of my favorite aspects of the Montessori classroom is the multi-age grouping. Traditionally, Montessori classrooms are grouped according to age:

  • Primary- 3-6 year olds
  • Lower Elementary- 6-9
  • Upper Elementary- 9-12
  • Middle School (Erdkinder), or the traditional Montessori Farm School- 12-15
  • High School- 15-18
Montessori's goal of implementing a multi-age classroom was to aid in the development of community life. Typically, Montessori teachers try to regulate enrollment so that the class is made up of 1/3 3-year-olds, 1/3 4-year-olds and 1/3 5-year-olds. At the end of the year, the 5-year-olds are to move up to the 6-9 class or move on to another school. A new group of three-year-olds are then ushered in to fill the vacant spots. Therefore, the average Montessori student will spend three years in one classroom with the same teacher(s).

Our goal is for the older children to help the younger ones and to learn patience and sympathy along the way. The younger children naturally look up to these leaders and gain respect for their knowledge and maturity. This is why many Montessori schools are hesitant to enroll five-year-olds who are new to Montessori. These older children set the bar for all of the younger kids, and enrolling just one rambunctious five-year-old can throw off the tone for the entire year. I made a gutsy decision to enroll a "new to Montessori" five-year-old this year, and it paid off. My decision was made when I found out he came from a large family, where he has already learned the patience and care needed for younger siblings.

Montessori believed that older children can be more responsive to the needs of the younger child:

There is a communication and harmony between the two that one seldom finds between the adult and the small child...It is hard to believe how deep this atmosphere of protection and admiration becomes in practice. They do not help each other as we do...They respect one another's efforts, and give help only when necessary. This is very illuminating because it means they respect intuitively the essential need of childhood which is not to be helped unnecessarily.

In the past, some parents have expressed concern about their kindergarten child spending much of their time giving lessons to the little ones of the class. Montessori must have experienced the same parent apprehension when she stated:

People sometimes fear that if a child of five gives lessons, this will hold him back in his own progress. But, in the first place, he does not teach all the time and his freedom is respected. Secondly, teaching helps him to understand what he knows even better than before. He has to analyze and rearrange his little store of knowledge before he can pass it on. So his sacrifice does not go unrewarded.

I've witnessed some beautiful lessons given by older children, presented in a most magical way, which I could only attempt to replicate.

Third-Year Student Presenting Hand Washing Work

Third-Year Student Teaching the Parts of the Butterfly

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