About Us

Mixed Age Groups in the Montessori Environment

A nursery group consisting of children with ages ranging from 2 years 0 months to 4 years and 11 months is not typical of a nursery - but of a family. This natural grouping of children follows a pattern of early family life and offers many benefits to the children – older and younger. Older siblings are role models for the younger members of the family and their influence is profound. Our nursery is based entirely on this role model ideal.

When the very young child first attends nursery he may be apart from his mother for the very first time. He is two-years old and emotionally fragile. He is comforted and supported by warm caring adults but he is also in the company of settled, happy ‘established’ older children and he watches them intently. He sees these older children leave their mothers, wave to them at the window and become involved and content in various activities. He sees them operate independently in the nursery environment looking after their own needs; choosing activities and sharing equipment; being helpful and co-operative; engaging in purposeful activity. The very young child observes all this and wants to do the same. It is my experience over 25 years of working with young children – that two-year olds learn far more from older children than from adults. However, one important point to note is that for two year-olds to feel secure and not intimidated by the presence of older children it is important that the overall group size remains small and calm.

The two-year olds are treated very gently and they are encouraged to treat our pet rabbits and even our nursery dolls in a very gentle manner. In this way they learn to respect the feelings of others. From this first caring principle develops an attitude of helpfulness which is basic kindness, and from this, a desire to engage in purposeful activity. The youngest children are made to feel special by the older ones who give them attention.

As with a family the younger children learn in every way from their older siblings – they learn songs; dances; games; role-plays; den-making. With the older children’s encouragement and lead they will manage to climb up to the slide and jump off the boat. They will share a mixing bowl at cookery sessions and hold the doll when it is the doll’s bath time. They will first observe the older children at a game and if they appear to be interested they will be invited to join in.

‘Middle’ children – our three-year olds, want so much to do all that the eldest children do and they are developing skills at a fast rate. They have the ability however to ‘stand still’ and cement their knowledge by repeating over and over the simple colour games; the first stage jigsaws and wanting the same story. This repetition is an important phase in their development and can be used to great advantage by the two year-olds who want to learn how to play that colour game or manage that jigsaw or hear that story.

And the four year-olds? Children in the pre-school year are generally very good communicators and often they can form a conversation with a new younger child who may be too shy to speak to an adult. They have been encouraged to care for the feelings of others and we add to this a sense of responsibility. It may be simply….. “Would you kindly see if Yana is alright? She is washing her hands.” Or “Please help that little person with his wellingtons” It is these simple acts of kindness, easily achieved by the older able child, that create a sense of well-being which is actually a raised self-esteem. It is a feeling the child wants to repeat and most children delight in being helpful. Without knowing it the child is acting as a role-model in the best possible way - for the younger children are aware and observing.

Mixed age groups playing and working together effectively mask any mixed abilities. It is accepted as normal that some children are less able and some well skilled. There is no fixation on age – therefore a ‘free flow’ play environment operates with the only dividing line being personal choice. Children choose from various activities and they are more or less adult supervised activities or they may be initiated by the children. Montessori equipment contains a ‘control of error’ element meaning that the child can see for himself when a mistake has been made and usually remedy the mistake himself. This is a far superior way of learning. Likewise patience and encouragement are used in abundance with regard to writing; learning sounds and numeracy. In that last term we want to hear… … “I can do it myself” then we know we have helped the child reach her potential.