Apple Montessori Blog
What Is a Mixed-Age Classroom and How Does It Benefit Your Child?
In one corner of the classroom, a 6-year-old reads a book to a 4-year-old. In another area, a 5-year-old watches a 6-year-old work on an advanced math material.
These are some everyday scenarios you might encounter in a mixed-age classroom. While these moments may warm the heart, you’re probably wondering what exactly is a mixed-age classroom? And why bother with mixed-age classrooms? What are the benefits? Or, is it harder for children to learn in mixed-age classrooms? Let’s explore the answers to some of these questions.
What Is a Mixed-Age Classroom?
Traditionally, schools group children by age. In any one classroom, children are usually all the same age, with the largest gap in age being 6 months to a year. Children all learn the same material at the same time and the curriculum is based on the pace of the average student – children feel left behind if they struggle with a concept, and they feel bored by repetition of something they have already mastered.
Mixed-age classrooms include a range of ages in the same classroom. Usually, children’s ages vary by about 2 or 3 years. Dr. Montessori was one of the first advocates of mixed-age classrooms. She noticed that interaction among children of different ages brought many positive benefits to the classroom. In her own words, Montessori said:
“The main thing is that the groups should contain different ages because it has great influence on the cultural development of the child. This is obtained by the relations of the children among themselves.”
At Apple Montessori schools, we follow Dr. Montessori’s “planes of development,” for mixed-age classrooms. Students are grouped eighteen months to 2.5 years; 2-6 years old; 6-9 years old; and 9-12 years old. In our mixed-age classrooms, we “follow the child” as they progress at different rates in varying areas. Teachers guide children to move along to the next stage of the curriculum when they are ready. We provide a span of materials and activities that allow each child to work at the pace and level best suited for their individual interests and abilities.
Benefits of Mixed-Age Classrooms
In our experience, mixed-age classrooms offer 6 amazing benefits to children who are lucky enough to enjoy them. Check out 6 benefits of mixed-age classrooms below:
1. Improved Academic Outcomes
According to Montessori “There are many things which no teacher can convey to a child of three, but a child of five can do it with ease.” In other words, the multi-age classroom gives children the chance to learn from each other.
In Apple Montessori classrooms, it’s common for older students to teach and explain what they know while younger children focus intently on learning from their older classmates. There are benefits for both the younger and older child. Specifically, psychologist, Lev Vygotsky, noticed that younger children can be inspired by watching older, more advanced students and also receive lessons from them. Older children also benefit from re-teaching because it reinforces the previously learned concept and moves the child toward complete mastery. In fact, this is a well-researched phenomenon officially known as the “protégé effect.”
Another academic advantage of multi-age classrooms is that children work at their own level and pace. While one four-year-old might be ready to start handwriting and reading, another child might not start handwriting until they’re five. However, there is space for all children to learn at their own pace, leading to academic success.
Children also re-explore the same materials at different levels throughout their 3-year cycle in the classroom. For example, the geometric solids can first be sensorially explored by a younger child. An older child may want to name them, match them to cards, or even trace and cut them out. When these materials are used often and at different levels, the opportunities for learning are endless.
2. Boosts Social Skills
A four-year-old watches as two six-year-olds negotiate over who’s going to use a material next. The two six-year-olds calmly talk through the issue and come to an agreement. This is a wonderful teaching moment for the younger child, who can absorb social skills such as compromising, using polite words, and more, from the older students. These interactions are a daily occurrence in multi-age classrooms!
Furthermore, research shows that older children often develop a mentor role in mixed-age classrooms, helping everyone practice pro-social behaviors such as sharing, helping, and more!
3. Encourages Emotional Well-being
Another benefit to a multi-age classroom is that there is less competition. Children in the same age group tend to compare themselves to one another a lot! With a mixed-age group, the focus is on discovery and the joy of learning. Without all of the comparing, children are able to relax and enjoy the learning process. Because each child is working at their own pace, they can focus on their own learning goals and progress. This can help relieve some of the anxiety many school children feel about academics.
Additionally, in a mixed-age classroom, everyone has someone they can work with, regardless of their skill level. Children don’t feel left behind if they struggle with a concept, and they also don’t feel bored by repetition of something they have already mastered.
4. Builds Self-Confidence
In our mixed-age classrooms, the younger children look up to the older ones as role models and the older children look forward to the opportunity to be mentors. This mentorship role helps older children develop self-confidence and leadership skills.
5. Provides Stability
Children remain with the same teacher and group for a 3-year cycle, allowing each educator to better observe the unique needs of students and to more clearly understand and encourage the development of their individual learning styles. Mixed-age classrooms provide more stability, as the children form solid relationships and a sense of community with both their peers and their teachers.
6. Offers a Real-World Experience
How often do people divide by age group in the real world? Not too often! Mixed-age classrooms better prepare children for the “real world,” in which they’ll interact with other people of a range of ages, experiences, and abilities.
Mixed-age classrooms offer so many benefits and wonderful opportunities for children to enjoy. Will you give your child the gift of a mixed-age classroom?