Benefits of Multi-Age Montessori Classrooms

One thing that sets Montessori schools apart is the muti-age classrooms. Mixed-age classes are a huge component of the Montessori approach to education. As a Montessori teacher who taught in a lower elementary classroom with 6 to 9-year-old children for over 5 years, I loved having a mixed-age environment. I saw so many benefits of mixed-age classrooms. In this article, we will dive into the different Montessori age groupings and the benefits of multi-age Montessori classrooms. 

What are the Montessori Age Groups?

Montessori students are divided into 7 different groupings. Most commonly you still see Montessori schools with Primary and elementary classrooms. The infant and toddler communities are not necessarily present in all Montessori schools. Adolescent and high school programs are also less common.

Infant (0-18 Months)

Toddler (18 Months – 3 Years)

Primary or Children’s House (3-6 Years)

Lower Elementary (6 to 9 Years)

Upper Elementary (9 to 12 Years)

Adolescent or Middle School (12 – 15 Years)

High School (15 to 18 Years)

Why are they grouped as they are? 

Dr. Maria Montessori understood child development deeply and categorized human development into four planes. Each of these planes is divided into two sub-planes. Montessori programs will commonly divide children into groups based on these sub-divisions. Children within the same plane of development have the same characteristics that will emerge during that period. For example, a second-plane child, ages 6 to 12, has a characteristic called the herd instinct. Children at this age naturally want to be with peers and are highly influenced by them. Both younger and older students in this developmental stage share this tendency, making mixed-age grouping ideal.

Chart of the four planes of development.

Benefits of Multi-Age Montessori Classrooms 

Montessori teachers would agree that multi-age groupings offer countless benefits to both the children and the overall Montessori environment. Let’s look at why Montessori classes use a mixed-age approach and how it benefits the learning environment and those in it. 

A Three-Year Cycle

When you have multi-age Montessori classrooms, a child has a three-year cycle. This is so valuable to both the child and the classroom. As a teacher, having the opportunity to work with a child for three years is amazing. You build a deeper relationship and can build upon things done in previous years. The child becomes very familiar and confident in their environment, knows their guide (teacher) well, and builds lasting relationships with other children.

A three-year cycle provides many opportunities for flexibility in teaching. This is helpful when you have a child who may be struggling in one area or a child who is ready to keep moving forward. There can be more fluidity in the groupings for lessons as the Montessori children get older. As a teacher, I loved the three-year cycle because I wasn’t getting a whole new classroom of children every year. Just about a third of the students were new to me. The three-year cycle allowed me to build deeper relationships with the children as well as their families. It also is a very effective approach because a child can pick up where they left off the next school year rather than having a different teacher learn what they do and don’t know each fall. 

Groupings based on Interest and Abilities vs. Age 

When you have older children and younger children in the same classroom you create a diverse community of different interests and abilities. As a teacher, having this variety makes it easy to diversify your groupings based on a child’s interests and abilities rather than their age. A Montessori classroom encourages and allows children to move forward and work at their own pace. I find when you have these multi-age classrooms, it makes all this variety easier to accommodate becasue that is how it is intended to function. Montessori classrooms were never designed to be a “one size fits all” approach. Naturally, by putting multiple ages within the same classroom you are expecting to have different groups, different abilities, and a lot of variety in the work happening within the classroom. 

Having the mixed ages in a classroom can help to mask any social discomfort of academic success or being at different levels than their peers. Because there are so many children with differnet abilities in their basic skills, it can help prevent some of the comparisons that may happen in traditional schools. A Montessori classroom fosters a love of learning and a positive learning expereince. Having multi-age children in Montessori classrooms greatly helps achieve this goal.

A teacher in a Montessori classroom with children.

Peer Mentorship 

Just think for a moment, if you were on your first day of a job and showed up and needed to ask someone how to do something, would you feel more comfortable asking your boss who is 25 years older than you with tons more expereince, or would you turn to your new colleague who is 2 years older than you or even your age and was just in your shoes not too long ago?

The Montessori method of education depends on peer mentorship and peer teaching. Children can help other children. An older child can help their younger friends know where things are in the classroom, recall how to use a material they worked with just a few months ago, and model how to function and operate in this classroom. This peer mentorship helps build a greater sense of community, and this mixed-age group of children brings their varying skills and experiences to create a beautiful Montessori environment.

Greater Responsibility 

With a three-year cycle, a child gets to go through different phases and stages. The first year they are the youngest students in the classroom. They have lots of new things to learn and can look to the older children in the classroom. A second-year child in the classroom will have a little more expereince and things will be more familiar to them. They have many things they could share or help a younger child with, becuase they know what it is like to be the new child in a classroom. Then, as a third-year child in a classroom, you become the expert. The older classmates are role models to the young children of the class. They establish leadership skills and are often entrusted with a greater responsibility for the class. The third-year children take on great pride when they are in this role. They love to be the person their younger peers look up to.

A female teacher teaching a group of students in a Montessori classroom.

Mimics the Real World

I always find it helpful to relate some of the Montessori principles to what we see happen in the real world. Just imagine if you went into a new job and when you showed up, your whole team was your same age and had the same amount of life expereince as you. Wow! That would create quite a steep learning curve as you learn how to do your job and get to know the company. I have yet to see any social construct that groups humans based on age alone. Most often, there is variety. This multi-age grouping is beneficial for everyone. Learning to work with people of different ages is valuable and reflects real-world experiences.

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