Have You Considered Multiage?

Submitted by: Teresa Velez, Paramita Basu, and Hazel Lara, Aoba Japan International School
Appeared on the ET Journal Spring Issue 2023


“The main thing is that the groups should contain different ages, be- cause it has a great influence on the cultural development of the child. This is obtained by the relations of the children among themselves.You cannot imagine how well a young child learns from an older child; how patient the older child is with the difficulties of the younger.”
- Maria Montessori

In Lakshmi Kripalani’s most recent book, More Montessori in Practice: Further Observations of a First-Generation Montessorian, she stresses the impor tance of three-year multi-age grouping. She says, “A pre- pared environment means learning in an environment where young and old students can function at different levels.This is why Mon- tessori insisted on three-year groups functioning together.”(Kripalani 2018) In our kindergarten, we are in our third-year of implementing multiage grouping and in this article we present to you our journey in this distinctive endeavor.

Our school
Aoba Japan International School is an IB school accredited by CIS and NEASC.The Multi Age Structure in our school was a pilot pro- gram carried out by the EarlyYears team. Our multi age kindergar- ten class includes students ranging from 3 to 5 years old. Students stay with the same teachers for three years in a very socially and academically integrated single learning community. In our framework, the learning objectives are met through inquiry and play.

Seeing challenges as opportunities
Transitioning from a single-leveled classroom to a multiage class- room has its own challenges.We, as a team, met the challenges with an open-mind.We saw these challenges as opportunities to be crea- tive, adaptive and to grow. In this article, we will walk you through the challenges we faced and how we were able to create oppor- tunities for development.We have categorized challenges into four domains: Students, Environment,Teachers, and Parents.

Challenges in the Student Domain
The greatest challenge in this domain was the students’ developmen- tal differences. We noticed the older students tend to lose engage- ment with learning materials as they master the skills more quickly and interest fades away. Younger students, on the other hand, may struggle with these same activities and need more time, support, and encouragement to stay engaged. Maturity-wise, older students could be more emotionally stable and better able to regulate their emotions, unlike their younger peers. Another striking difference that we realized is students of different ages reach cognitive mile- stones at different times. For example, younger students often strug- gle with abstract reasoning, while older students are more capable in this area. These differences create gaps in students’ comprehen- sion levels, functional independence and performance. Our multiage classroom also includes students with different stages of language development. The younger children are learning to use simple to complex sentence structures in speaking while the older students have moved on to speaking more sophisticated sentences and trans- ferring language to foundational skills of reading and writing.

Turning Into Opportunities
Developmental differences made us realize that promoting equity for multi age children was something that we had to focus on.This meant that we needed intentional planning to ensure that instruc- tion is developmentally and linguistically appropriate for all. So, in our planning, differentiation became a major player.We created develop- mentally appropriate expectations for each age group and organized activities where children across all ages can use their strengths and abilities.Another step was to intentionally provide a variety of devel- opmentally appropriate books and materials for students to access. Our activities were designed to fit multi age groups where older children have the opportunity to serve as mentors and take leader- ship roles. Gradually, as the older children modeled more sophisticated skills, the younger children became more able to ac- complish similar tasks with less assistance. In turn, this dynamic in- creased the older children’s skills and competency.The element of competition was removed, whereas cooperation became more evident. To address the developmental differences in language, we adopted steps that provide appropriate language support.This in- cluded using visual aids, applying clear and concise language, scaffold- ing instructions through blended approaches and creating opportu- nities for peer to peer learning.

Challenges in the Environmental Domain
Environment is a major part in the planning as having different age groups and large numbers of students tend to create increased noise levels and distractions. Managing the sound level and harness- ing students’ attention could often be challenging. In multiage, ma- terial appropriation is a constant necessity, as different age groups often require more materials and more variety. It’s also imperative to ensurethatallmaterialsprovidedaresafeforallagelevels.Moreover, the classroom spaces needed to be designed for different cognitive and physical developmental stages to meet students’ ever changing needs and interests.

Turning Into Opportunities
To tackle the above challenges, we created corners where children can work in small groups.This helps to distribute the noise level in small pockets, while still keeping the students engaged in activities thatareabitnoisierinnature(likeinquiries.)Topromotematerial appropriation, we made efforts to provide open-ended materials that have no age barriers. Students of all age groups showed owner- ship of their learning by making choices with the materials to explore their interests. Addressing the environmental challenges that come with the physical and cognitive gap range in a multiage, we created a collaborative learning space which promotes self-direction and creativity.This collaborative learning space motivated the children of different age levels to share their skills with their peers and co-create their learning paths which reflect their developmental levels.

Challenges in the Teacher Domain
Having multiple teachers in one classroom means having different teaching styles and perspectives. In a multiage classroom, students stay with the same teacher for a continuous period of three years.

Turning Into Opportunities
Anchored on respect, trust, open-mindedness and flexibility, we viewed our differences as our team’s strength. We were keen on making a consistent collaborative working environment to offer a diverse learning experience for our students. As teachers, we were able to constantly learn from each other and improve our practices. We also realized that consistency of teachers throughout the three year period allows teachers to develop a deeper understanding of the children’s strengths and needs thus giving us the privilege of time to tailor individualized learning paths.

Challenges in the Parent Domain
As expected initially, parents were skeptical of this program as we deviated from the existing single grade level classroom to a multiage structure.

Turning Into Opportunities
To alleviate this problem, periodic communication and sharing with families helped parents understand how the multiage program ben- efits their children and it also built a strong and trusting partner- ship between families and the school.We have made the classroom more visible to parents by holding parent information workshops, invitingparentstotheclassroomtoobserveandcelebratestudent- led events, hold parent-teacher conferences and consistently collab- orate with teachers to support student learning and development.

There were no manuals when we started our journey, we just learned from our day to day experiences and created a program that best suits us.We are still on our journey and we will continue to explore more possibilities to improve our program.We sincerely hope that our experiences will give some of you the motivation to consider a multiage structure for your classrooms.

Cozza, B. (2017).The Multiage Learning Community in Action: Creating a Caring School Environment for All Children. Rowman & Littlefield. Milligan College. (2022). The Impact of Multiage Classroom Environ- ments on Student Social Behaviors at a Selected Elementary School. Ritland,V. a.V., & Eighmy, M.A. (2012). Multiage Instruction:An Outdated Strategy, Or a Timeless Best Practice. European Journal of Social & The Personette, P. (n.d.). Three-Year Multi-Age Grouping in the Montessori Classroom - Ideas & Insights Articles. Montessori Services. Retrieved March 29, 2023, from https://www.montessoriservices.com/ideas- insights/three-year-multi-age-grouping

About the Authors
Teresa Velez, Paramita Basu, and Hazel Lara are all teachers at Aoba Japan International School. Paramita Basu can be contacted at paramita.basu@aobajapan.jp


>> Read more on the ET Journal Spring Issue 2023 page 28