In Montessori education, the Three-Year Cycle very intentionally enables students to enjoy multiage classrooms. While there are a variety of advantages to children at Gladwyne Montessori working with a wider range of peers during the school day, one of the most beneficial is the mentor-mentee relationship that is formed within the community.
Younger students learn from their more experienced peers and those benefits are obvious—they can work at a higher level and have further exposure to concepts they may not have chosen on their own, which helps them adapt their own learning pace and enjoy varied friendships.
Becoming a mentor, however, is one of the most interesting and important roles our children can take on in our classrooms. Research has shown that children of all ages who have opportunities to mentor, lead and even tutor reap incredible benefits. Those who lean into their mentor roles get to be the leaders of their environments—they refine their communication skills, enhance their own mastery while demonstrating lessons, develop confidence in the knowledge they possess, gain motivation to learn more and, perhaps most importantly, experience a powerful sense of purpose and contribution.
These relationships occur very organically! Just this year, I observed a first year Primary child watch as her peers took part in a language scavenger hunt—children found words around the room related to letters or sounds they were searching for—and while this young student did not yet know her alphabet, she quickly comprehended the activity through the leadership of her older classmates and directly asked for the materials to join in. She then followed the others around as they identified the letter sounds, making marks as if she was also recording and modeling their behavior. This led to her requesting daily lessons on the sandpaper letters and, within hours, she was already understanding and recording some of the letter sounds herself. This same child later asked her teacher, can I show a friend this next year when I am one of the older students?
In our Toddler classrooms, children lead just by moving and talking. A teacher might ask, where are the tissues? and a child will walk to the tissues to show where they are located, essentially becoming the leader for the group in that moment. Toddlers who possess very expressive language will often say words that end up being repeated by their peers in the classroom while others who are more physical will demonstrate refined mobility for their peers who may not be quite as motivated toward movement otherwise.
As children enter the Primary program, the oldest students (third year Primary, or kindergartners) truly assist in demonstrating key procedures of the classroom for the younger students to model. Often, these mentors are asked to give a lesson they have mastered to their younger peers. The children in the mentee roles are building social awareness in this way and are often much more enthralled in a lesson given by their older peer than one given by their classroom Guide. The student mentoring has to understand the concept and vocabulary well enough to teach the mentee, honing their communication skills, precision and social understanding.
In this relationship, both students are developing their intrinsic drive for learning. The younger children strive to achieve what the older children do, and not out of competition or external pressure—it goes beyond ego. It is a desire to own their mentor’s experience of learning.
Being a leader to others not only reinforces learning, but it gives a sense of purpose to our children—opportunities for children to influence and truly help others can be scarce throughout the day. The feeling of pride that comes with helping another person is not easily replicated and gives our children a much-needed boost to their self-esteem.
We are endlessly impressed to discover what they are capable of teaching each other.
Gwen Shangle, Director of Montessori