The Montessori method and environment is built around the concept of a three-year, multi-age classroom. The purpose of the multi-age classroom is to encourage older children to serve as leaders, both academically and socially. Younger children learn more readily from their peers through imitative learning and peer-to-peer teaching.
Peer teaching often develops spontaneously, after all, who hasn’t watched a group of young children play ‘school’ together? In the Montessori environment, teachers are encouraged to take advantage of this natural tendency and actively develop classroom mentors.
Student Mentors in the Montessori Environment
In a class of very young children, guide the more mature children to model proper classroom behavior. Gather two or three of the older children and let them know you have observed how some of the younger children seem to need their support in learning about the classroom. Encourage the older children to engage their young peers in lessons that they had when they were younger. They can even gather a small group of younger children for a demonstration to help settle them.
Older students also benefit from being a role model. Sometimes, a little added responsibility can help an older student mature. Older students can get ‘squirrely,’ too. I have noticed that when an older student loses focus, one of the best ways to positively reengage him is to promote his natural leadership qualities. When he learns that a younger student is relying on him to show the way, you will find that both students blossom under their new found relationship.
Of course if you do not set the stage properly, having older students model behavior can backfire and lead younger students astray. That is why it is so important to have on-going conversations with the older students about their responsibilities and your expectations. They soon realize that not only are they helping you and their younger peers, they are helping the whole class, and this makes them want work very hard to succeed.
Developing student mentors is more than simply asking an older child to go help a younger one. A true leader is mentored and shown the process of how to lead and help others. When we take the time to cultivate leaders in our Montessori environment, we see that this is another critical piece of the carefully prepared environment.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Friday, November 15, 2013.