“The child’s progress does not depend only on his age, but also on being free to look around him.” – Maria Montessori
Traditional schooling often calls for classes, grades, and at times entire schools, to be sorted almost unilaterally by age. Children born between month ‘x’ and month ‘y’ are placed together under the stewardship of a teacher, operating under the assumption that because they are the same age, they need to be taught the same subject matter in the same way at the same time.
Although there is certainly some credence to this general idea, Maria Montessori added tremendously to this concept. During her time as the superintendent of Casa del Bambini, or ‘Children’s House (an inner-city academy she ran in one of the poorest areas of Rome), she experimented with the idea of children of differing ages being placed together in educational settings. Originally criticized by her scholarly peers, she made some very enlightening discoveries.
Montessori discovered that, rather than slowing down the progression and learning speed of the older students…both the older and younger students improved at faster rates than before. Teachers were pleasantly surprised to discover the intrinsic ability of mentorship. Older students, if given the right opportunity, environment and encouragement, would consistently take newer, younger students ‘under their wing’, and help the less-experienced student learn a skill or concept they had not previously mastered.
Such sights are referred to as ‘awe-inspiring’, and reinforced Dr. Montessori’s theories that if adults are often mentored by other adults with more age and/or experience, the same phenomenon would naturally occur with children. The ability to learn from others is an absolutely critical skill in any business, and throughout life. Montessori schooling recognizes this, and utilizes these and other ideas into the way our young children are taught today.