In a Montessori environment, classes are grouped in three year age spans- zero to three, three to six, six to nine, nine to twelve, and so on. Montessori teachers are responsible for teaching a complete cycle, which means they remain with the child for the entire three years. Once the child is finished that cycle they then transition onto the next cycle and will have a new teacher for another three years, this is referred to as vertical age grouping.
The benefit of having three years in one class or ‘cycle’ is that children can work at their own individual level – no child is left behind. Children have three years to complete everything required, giving them the ability to complete some things faster and some things with more time. By having three years in the same class it means that at any one time only a third of the classroom is made up of new children coming in which means less upheaval and more stability all round. Another advantage is the increased familiarity and bond between the teacher and student and a strong sense of community between the students as they are growing and developing together over a number of years, not just one fleeting year.
The newest, youngest members can easily adapt and learn using the older children as role models, while the older class members have their knowledge cemented by imparting it to the youngest, developing patience and tolerance. Younger children are far more at ease with older children than they are with adults, allowing them to learn easily, sometimes simply by observing others. Older students are also more in touch with the younger students’ needs as they were only in their position a year or two ago. The younger children don’t simply look up to their older peers, they want to become like them one day. The children grow up caring for each other, fostering respect and empathy for others. This process builds the child’s self-esteem, self-confidence and social development. In the Montessori environment children automatically begin to ‘behave nicely’ and share with each other, not because they were taught ‘good manners’ by adults but because they have developed these processes of their own will.
The Montessori three year cycle follows the natural transitions of the child’s developmental phases and sensitive periods, each cycle is designed to deliver information to the child when he or she is most receptive. In essence, the three year cycle ensures that all work necessary to the development of the child is completed at that particular stage.
Another factor of benefit, particularly to those children with special needs, such as autism, is the consistency of the environment as a whole which allows the child to feel safer, as there are no significant changes during the three year period. Also, as the child remains with the same teacher for three years, the teacher forms strong bonds with both the child and the parents. This extra level of knowledge allows the teacher to really ensure the child’s needs are being met and can better work and liaise with external specialists such as Learning Enhancement or Learning Support departments, which offer supplementary support to staff, children and parents who require extra assistance.
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