Nitai (almost 3) was following Liam (almost 5) for the good part of the morning. Liam’s map work was laid out on a table next to the big atlas book. Older children in our classroom often like to use atlases for their ‘research’ - to learn more about countries and places they are curious about. Nitai was quietly observing from a distance, but when Liam left to have his morning tea, Nitai couldn’t wait any longer. He sat down at the table and intently looked through the materials. Noticing his younger friend was fascinated by the colourful maps, photos and letters, Liam came by and sat next to Nitai to show him his work - a magical learning moment for both of them.
When you think back to your own childhood, often the times when learning was the most fun were spent with your peers - siblings, cousins, neighbours or friends. Doing or discovering things together was very likely your favourite way to learn.
Montessori is very much based on learning from our friends. Our preschool classrooms are mixed age, with children from 2 ¾ years up to 6. From the first day a new 3 year old arrives, they are surrounded by caring older children, who like nothing more than taking a younger child under their wing to show him/her the ropes. Their “I can do it, so can you” attitude, and eagerness to be a mentor, sends a clear message that in this environment children are important - you are important!
Older children are patient teachers, full of compassion and care. They enjoy showing their younger peers activities they have long mastered themselves, and they do it out of the inner human need to help, to contribute and care for their classmates and environment - burgeoning leadership of the very best kind.
It’s important to give our children an environment where they are able to spend time with children of various ages. In life, we rarely spend time only among people of exactly the same age. Yet somehow, this is how schools are often organised. A learning environment with mixed ages is one of the differences of Montessori learning. Children learn easily and quickly by observing other children. They can clearly see what they are aiming for, and what comes next, and there is always someone ready to help. Learning side-by-side with friends of different ages is a fun way to learn.