One fine morning I was sitting down on the mat and observing a child, who was working with checkered board in the Elementary environment. Three children came up to me and asked what I was doing. Slowly we dripped into a conversation.
Suddenly a child asked me why in Sharanalaya younger children and older children are together, whereas, in her cousin’s school they are in separate classes. I asked if that was wrong, though the child said no, she started to list out the problems of having younger children in their class. Her friends joined her to add issues like ‘they do not listen to us’, ‘they make a lot of noise’, ‘they talk loudly’, ‘they do not put back their work, mats, etc’., ‘they disturb when we are at work’ and the list went on and on.
I realized that the younger children were looked at as trouble and disturbance. I asked them what they do when younger children do all this to them. One said, ‘we remind them about the ground rules’. The next one said, ‘we ignore them’. The next one said, ‘we tell them to work quietly and not to disturb’.
I asked, what about the older children? Do they all follow the ground rules of the environment and work in silence. They all disagreed and said, ‘no no sometimes the older ones too join the younger ones’. So what happens then, I asked. One of the children said, ‘a younger child would go and inform aunty or would come and tell us’. So I said, we all learn from each other. The older children should take care of the younger children and younger children learn from the older children. But if younger children are in separate environment, then who will help them learn? The conversation continued even after that on various other topics.
The mixed age group in a Montessori Environment fosters both learning and teaching. It is also a good influence on the cultural and social development of the children, resulting in better community.