One of the core concepts of Montessori, and one that, in our school, parents don’t always know they’re getting into, is the three year age groupings.
The usual first explanation given is that it supports individualized learning. Children can learn within subject areas at different rates allowing for an overall deeper understanding of the concepts. I.e., children who have high ability in mathematics could advance further in that area while spending equal time on language concepts that are more of a struggle.
However, multi-age groupings also:
- Support social-emotional learning. Because age is already the obvious “different” thing, children do not expect to be all the same. Children are interacting with their classmates constantly and developing relationships based not solely on age but on common interests, shared goals, and respect for the individual.
- Allow children to naturally grow into leadership roles. Children who understand a concept are used as resources to teach those that do not. This can be anything from “where does this go?” to “can you help me with this subtraction work?” The learning child is rewarded with an additional lesson on a topic s/he hasn’t yet while the teaching child’s understanding is cemented.
- Integrate children with special needs fully into the classroom. Because everyone in the classroom is learning at their own pace, there is less pressure to “keep up” and less concern about holding a child back.
- Mean less change. Most children do not thrive on change. Three year cycles with the same teacher and many of the same peer group reduces stress and hopefully allows for solid parent-teacher partnerships to develop.
Is there a downside?
- Clearly if your child has an ineffective teacher or one not aligned with your parenting philosophy then having that teacher for three years may not be ideal.
- Sometimes there may be an over-reliance on the older kids supporting the younger ones. Again, this is more likely to happen in a classroom with an ineffective teacher.
- More work/learning for the classroom teacher. Because the teacher is teaching at three grade levels, they hypothetically need to understand three years of curriculum. Functionally this isn’t as hard as it seems because the materials themselves lend themselves to levels of understanding. But it would still be a learning curve for a new teacher and I imagine that even the most experienced teacher needs to be incredibly organized to keep track of where each child is in each subject area.