|Originally posted by EFmom
On the whole, I'd rather they spend most of their time segregated by age. I think the mixed age thing is largely a waste of academic time.
I disagree. Even if every child in a class were born in the very same month of the same year, the levels of maturity and capability and interest would be vastly different, so only one-on-one teaching could ever truly meet your goal of not wasting academic time.
I believe that education is about more than just learning and regurgitating facts. Children can learn many things from other children who are not their own age. My daughter is the very youngest child in her preschool class. When she began, it was hard for her to be away from me, but the older girls in her class are particularly nurturing. They took her under their wing with a supply of hugs and encouragement. She learned that she can rely on others to comfort her; they got a chance to practice the nurturance that they've been learning as they've gotten older. Everyone benefitted. My daughter also benefits from sometimes observing older children doing work that is more complicated than what she can do. The older children benefit from sometimes getting a chance to teach the younger ones a new skill, thereby testing and solidifying their own knowledge of that skill.
Another strong benefit that I see, especially at the elementary level of Montessori education, is how children learn to work collectively regardless of age. There isn't any bullying or superiority of the "I'm the 3rd grader and you are a measly 2nd grader" kind. I remember all too much of THAT from when I was growing up, and would be delighted if my daughter never had to experience that ignorant and artificial herd response.
Of course, in a traditional classroom setting, interaction is severely limited and children are not allowed to choose their own work or their own pace. Teachers are overburdened by teaching strict curricula and making sure "no child is left behind." If you aren't going to allow children any freedom of work or choice or interaction, then I suppose it matters less whether they get to spend any time with older or younger children.
Still, I think mixed-age work is a very good thing. After all, relating to and working with people of all ages and skill sets is a realilty of life, and they're going to have to eventually. Not to mention (from an academic standpoint) that some children learn far more easily when working with children closer to their age, than with an adult leading a large-class setting. Why rob children of the chance to develop relational skills and understanding, while also facilitating the academic education process in a new way that might actually be better for some children?