The Social Development of the Child in the mixed aged setting

Education for Peace, Values, and Rights and Responsibilities cannot be taught didactically but through the child’s experience of her ‘link of love’ which connects her to the environment. Montessori described Peace education as, “constructive social reform”, her aim was to Educate Society through the Education of Man, based on a child’s arising tendencies. Co-operation cannot be forced by authority as here participation in Society equates to a choice to involve oneself in the community of the Casa. In the Casa a child works at her individual and social development, prompted by her observations of other children in the mixed age group.

The child remains in the same Casa from the age of two and a half to six, after which she enters the Elementary Setting. New two and a half year olds join the Casa from the Nido, so at any given time one-third of the children are spending their first year in the Casa.  The individual in the Casa are all in the second phase of the first plane of development.

The Purpose of the Mixed Age Group

The individual develops socially with others who have the same type of Developmental Tasks.  These are to;

  • Work at her own self construction; a mixed age setting allows her to absorb the social and spiritual values of others.
  • All the children have unconsciously absorbed language and have attained equilibrium in the first half of this plane. Now all the children need to consolidate these abilities with the Conscious Absorbent Mind, through outward experiences.

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  • The children have similar physical, emotional, intellectual, social needs which can be met through ‘natural mental osmosis’ (Montessori), this also gives them a strong affinity with each other, enabling them to assist each other without judging.
  • They are going through the same Sensitive Periods in which they experience an incredible attraction to and an irresistible attraction towards the same types of activity and objects to develop functions and characteristics. In the mixed age setting one child’s interest can inspire others, encouraging them to make the most out of the Sensitive Periods.
  • Children share the same tendencies, those with weaker tendencies and wills who work with them find their tendencies and wills strengthening, their work together harmoniously develops their tendencies towards communication, gregariousness and contribution.
  • The materials in the environment, the Directress’s attitude along with her presentations and the exploratory exercises and games stimulate each child’s interests towards intelligent, purposeful activities.  Through their sensorial experiences and movement they begin to desire to read and write.
  • The language of their peers gives children the opportunity practice speaking and listening, write and read each others stories and give empathy towards one another. Discussions between children of mixed ages promotes the acquisition of language and the crystallization of abstract concepts.
  • The older children’s orderly use of the environment helps the younger children develop order and orientate themselves independently in the Casa, they acquire the ability to move and speak quietly, with control.
  • The Exercises of Practical Life and the Sensorial Materials provide opportunities for younger children to watch older ones, absorbing the learning easily and then work in groups, especially with the games, such as the ‘Two Mat Game’.
  • Grace and Courtesy demonstrations give the understanding of and opportunity to practice social norms, by observation and absorption, so the younger children are soon ready to participate in the ‘Walking on the Line’ activity.
  • In the context of her developmental community the child builds her character and personality, experiencing social norms which exist outside her familiarly, the need to contribute to others, and an awareness of other peoples rhythms, backgrounds, needs, expectations and abilities.
  • A wider age range allows children to develop at their own pace, children who might be ‘slow’ or ‘fast’ for their academic fit in smoothly to a wider range of peers and so are made less self conscious about their unpredictable developmental ‘spurts’.

As children in this phase have similar needs the same Prepared Environment can support them, emotionally, linguistically and intellectually. Social development requires adapting ones self to the group, in terms of moving quietly, tidying away, while meeting individual goals.

Social aspects of the Casa

The child adapts to life at the Casa by;

Turn taking, waiting for materials to be free to use or making a decision to use different equipment. By cleaning and packing up used materials in an orderly way so that others can work independently. With one set of most materials the children do not compare themselves to judged who is the ‘best’ or ‘fastest’, removing an obvious level of competition. Respecting another child’s work as she would like hers to be respected.  By doing this the child develops patience, the deliberate inhibition of ones impulses and the ability to ask for help and negotiate.

Social interaction requires the freedom to move, choose and ask others to work with you or work alone, in the Casa children with different ages and abilities are free to help each other fostering  relationships built on confidence and mutuality, not envy, ridicule and competition – vital for particularly fast or slow learners.  The new child, frightened to approach the Director can seek out peers, who are able to calm her and assist at the right level – children may respond to an invitation from a peer which they would refuse an adult. Meanwhile, older children develop empathy while patiently contributing to younger ones, explaining the mentored to the younger ones who watch them crystallized their learning and promotes their self confidence.

Younger children typical assume that with age they will inevitably be able to perform the older child’s work – building their self confidence without pressurizing them, they enjoy watching the older ones work and may receive presentations from them.  The younger child may find that having watched an older child work she understands how a piece of material is used and may select it from the shelves of her own accord.  Should this happen the Director makes a decision about whether the child may have sufficient ability to use the material; if she sees the child using it purposefully the child is left to continue, if the child is unable to complete it but has many of the skills required the Director may realize that the child should be offered a formal presentation by her in the next day or so, a child interested in the materials but without the pre-requisite skills, for example a young child curious about the movable alphabet could be shown a related Exercise of Practical Life in which she learns how to care for this equipment.  Sometimes a child’s interest in the material may be totally satisfied by watching another child’s presentation and she may not wish to use the material herself, the Director could try to teenage the child by offering a more advanced exercise of the material.

The mixed age group creates a society in miniature in which the child learns experientially while building cooperation, love and mutual admiration in the place of competition and domination, they help each other to tidy, care for those who fall, share food demonstrations real concern. Those who enter the Casa do so as ‘receivers’ and leave as ‘ givers’

The Director leaves the children to solve their own problems, if there is no threat of harm. On seeing that another child is struggling to complete an activity an older child will typically know when and how to offer assistance.  The children feel joy and praise the younger who has completed her task, alerting the Directress and others to the others success, without animosity or hidden jealousies.  As children work at their own pace parents find it harder to compare too, decreasing the pressure on them to perform.  The co-operation and encouragement they experience in the Casa negates the sense of failure a struggling child may experience while the more able child is integrated with the others as she helps them, receiving their thanks and not their bitter envy which excludes her.

In the Casa the child develops independently, completing her own work at her own pace, and socially, by the respect she shows for the work of others.  Inculcating these qualities throughout each day the child adapts to and internalizes these habits.  She makes her choices in the context of the needs of others, developing normalization. The freedoms allowed in the Prepared Environment give her the opportunity to develop positive values such as patience and co-operation. She receives indirect presentations in social responsibility to help her handle the social drives which emerge during the Second Plane of Development. The development of the will promotes a positive form of obedience, which is not the same as submission. Parents are given help to understand the mechanism of the Casa so that the home Environment can support her work here. The child learns to express her individuality in harmony with the group, each child supported in learning at her own pace, admiring the achievements of others and offering assistance to those in need. The children entering the Casa receive indirect presentations from the older ones helping them to mature with dignity, independence and security. All the while the Director is the key to setting the tone for social development, indirectly aiding the social growth of each child by cultivating the desired energies.

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