You might have asked yourself the question, “Why are children grouped by multiple ages in a Montessori school when all other schools put children of the same age in one classroom?”
Maria Montessori was a very perceptive person. She was able to observe that children exhibited certain characteristics across a range of ages. As she observed this, she created what is known to us Montessorians as the “planes of development”. These stages of development are still observed today by Montessori educators and many psychologists as well. Childhood is divided into six-year groups and each group is called a plane.
Imagine a horizontal line crossing this page with an equilateral triangle sitting on that line. Then trace with your finger on the triangle starting at the left vertex and going away from the horizontal line. This ascent represents birth to 3 years. Then trace the line back down to the horizontal line. This decent represents 3 years to 6 years of age. This is the first plane of development, and young children from birth to six are in this plane with toddlers being on the first part and primary children being on the second part. The next plane of development is again a triangle sitting on the horizontal line next to the first triangle. This ascent is 6 to 9 years and the descent is 9 to 12 years. The third triangle sitting on the line represents 12 to 15 years and 15 to 18 years. These triangles go on to adult life. But once you see these triangles representing the stages of life you can begin to understand why we group children in multiple ages in our classrooms.
Within each plane of development, children of those ages share common sensitivities to learning. Therefore, if a child has a sensitivity to order, for example, we want to teach him how to order his environment while he’s sensitive to that lesson. In fact, this sensitivity is true for the first stage of development, 3 to 6 years, which is why in the primary classrooms each material is always kept in the same place on a shelf and never in a cluttered toy box. 6 to 12-year-old children are sensitive to order too but not physical order. They don’t care as much if their rooms are neat or not, but they care a lot if justice is ordered equally. They are sensitive to moral order, which is why we work on teaching children in this plane how to solve problems.
If we look around our own social settings we see that we never lived in singular age groups except when we’re in school. We group ourselves according to our interests, not according to our ages. In Montessori schools we group children according to the planes of development so that we can teach them what they are ready and interested to learn. There are many benefits to this. One obvious one is that children do not need to adjust to a new school classroom and teacher every year. Another is that older children can help younger ones. Children can see what’s ahead. And children can benefit from a wider diversity of educational materials in the classroom.
Director/Elementary 1 Teacher