The Montessori Tides classroom, contrary to tradition, is a community in which children of different ages cooperate instead of compete. Just like a family, there are several positions within this community: the youngest child, the middle child, and the oldest child. Unlike in a family, however, the child does not hold her position by birth for a lifetime. Her position in the Montessori Tides classroom changes each year repeating in three year cycles. During each cycle the child is able to be the leader, the “new kid,” and the one in the middle.
Naturally each position carries with it unique responsibilities. In general, the youngest child is the unassuming observer. The middle one has the pleasure of no longer being the youngest but is kept humble by the oldest child, who, in turn, tends to be the leader. Thus the position of the oldest brings with it a certain level of social responsibility. Younger ones learn by observing the older ones, while the older ones help teach the younger ones and must set good examples for them. Children tend to be less inhibited when learning from their peers. Dr. Montessori pointed out, “There are many things which no teacher can convey to a child of three, but a child of five can do it with the utmost ease…Our schools show that children of different ages help one another. The younger ones see what the older ones are doing and ask for explanations.” The multi-age classroom, therefore, sets the stage for a great amount of indirect learning. The various roles and responsibilities the Montessori child has the opportunity to experience teaches her tremendous social skills. The multi-age classroom foreshadows what the child will one day experience in society at large; in fact, it may already coincide with her experiences outside the classroom.
Dr. Montessori believed that children know best how to teach themselves. She observed, “Each one of them perfects himself through his own powers and goes forwarded guided by that inner force which distinguishes him as an individual.” The multi-age classroom helps meet the needs of the individual. There is a great deal of flexibility; more than in a traditional classroom, where the children are directly guided by the teacher. Think of it this way, children’s development does not happen on a strict 9-month schedule. Having a mixed age group in the classroom allows for a more individualized development across that 3 -year span. If a 7 -year -old child is ready to learn long multiplication, they do that work without waiting until 3rd grade. If a 9-year old needs review of grammar concepts such as the function of the adjective, he or she can repeat that work until mastered without a sense of failure. Hence, in the Montessori classroom, there is a greater emphasis placed on the individual rather than the age.
The child is able to stay with the same teacher for three years in the Montessori Tides classroom. In this way, the child is able to form a strong bond with her teacher, giving her excellent experience in adult social relationships. Author Paula Polk Lillard, emphasized, “The possibilities for depth of relationships, positive influence by the teacher, and modeling of behavior are greatly increased. Further, it is possible for the teacher to relax and enjoy teaching each child. There are three years in which the child can reach the goals for formation. The teacher can be patient and have faith in each child’s natural rhythm of development.” Naturally there are more objectives for the child to meet over the course of three years compared to one year. In the multi-age classroom, however, the child is free to learn spontaneously and follow her own unique pattern of development.
In whole, the multi-age classroom offers a community atmosphere of cooperation, allows the child to experience a variety of social roles repeated in three year cycles, and easily caters to indirect as well as individualized and independent learning. Apart from that, it enables a very special teacher-student bond.