I think one of the best parts of our preschool program is having the one multi-age classroom. I love having the 2-5 year olds all mixed into "one big family." It has such a home-like feel to it and everybody is learning something from everybody else, just like siblings do. They are learning patience. compassion, nurturing, leadership, empathy and the list goes on.
Recently during a Montessori session at the NAEYC Conference the presenters talked about the benefits of the three-year groups that Montessori children are in. They remain in the same classroom for three years. As they spoke I realized that I follow a very similar philosophy when it comes to the benefits of a multi-age classroom for preschoolers.
When they enter preschool they are able to observe and learn from the older children who have attended the program longer. As they move up the "totem" and become the bigger kids of the group, it is easy to see the changes taking place. Suddenly they are the big kids. They get to be the leaders. It is time for them to pull together everything they have observed and learned and use it with confidence.
They get to lead the play. They are the teachers.
For some children this opportunity is key to allowing them to build confidence and to feel comfortable in their own skin. It is important that I recommend to each family whether they should move on to Public PreK (4 year old program in public school) or whether they would benefit from having the extra year. The extra year allows many to become the leaders in an environment where they are already comfortable. It is necessary to look at every child as an individual. Some children really benefit from moving on to the public 4 year old program, after just a year or two of being in a multi-age program. Others really need that final year to be the role models and learn valuable leadership skills that will follow them through their school years.
Are they still learning after being there that long? Of course. They are solidifying all the concepts they have learned as they model them to younger friends. Kids like to feel smart! They get excited when they are finally the ones who are always the "experts" before the littler kids get a chance to answer. They are also gaining critical social skills.
This is an important conversation for the parent-teacher team to have when advocating for what is in the best interest of the child.
Public Prek is often a bigger group and usually a bigger school. Many parents feel the need to introduce their children to this experience before kindergarten so they are not overwhelmed. I think what is often not considered is, if they wait their child may be entering Kindergarten much more confident. They may be really READY if they are given another year to develop their self-esteem further.
"Character formation cannot be taught. It comes from experience and not from explanation.” -Maria Montessori