Excerpt from “What is Montessori Elementary?” by David Kahn
Parents often ask whether the Montessori elementary program, with its emphasis on small-group activity, provides enough opportunities for social development. Moreover, they may wonder whether a multi-age class affords enough same-age peers for each child to have a wide choice of friends.
Like Montessori preschool, Montessori elementary is based on three-year age groupings. Students in the first, second, and third years are grouped together in the same classroom, just as three-, four-, and five-year-olds are
together in the preschool. At both levels, the multi-age grouping provides children with opportunities for broad social development.
Friendships developed in a multi-age setting have depth. Children make an effort to get along together because they know they will be together for three years. Moreover, the presence of a wide range of ages and abilities builds in each child a tolerance and appreciation for people’s differences. Shy, introverted, or less socially experienced children often become outgoing and confident with those who are younger. Self-confident youngsters are given the opportunity for even greater leadership roles. Relationships and their complexities are supported by alert and sensitive adults who are trained to observe and enhance social interaction, not to repress it.
The multi-age groupings also enhance learning. The youngest children receive stimulation from the older children’s activities before the younger ones even receive the lessons. And of course, they want to emulate the older children’s progress. The older children, in turn, benefit from helping the younger ones. They reinforce their own knowledge by “teaching” younger children. Each Montessori elementary class has a heritage. The knowledge and behavior of this heritage are passed on from one year to the next. The older children provide leadership, reliable friendships, and learning, which same-age peers don’t always provide.
The elementary-aged child is in a period of heightened social development, so he needs group experiences. Multi-age groupings mean more small-group options relative to ability and interest. They also mean maximizing the potential of each individual child in an environment that has a place for everyone, providing a profound sense of belonging.