Would you rather send your child to a school where the average class size is 15 students or 30 students?
If you are like most parents, the answer seems rather obvious—you would much prefer your child to attend the school with smaller class sizes. This is primarily because common wisdom tells us that smaller class sizes are more conducive to a better education. In fact, this is one of the main selling points for private schools. In a traditional classroom setting, the fewer the students the more individualized attention each student gets. While this logic makes sense for traditional school programs, it is not, however, the case for Montessori schools. A cornerstone of the Montessori teaching philosophy is having larger, mixed classes, which allows children of different ages to interact, socialize, collaborate, and learn from each other. In today’s article, we are going to take a closer look at this characteristic and why larger classrooms are actually a good thing when adhering to the Montessori educational philosophy.
If you are in the Omaha, Nebraska area and are looking for more than a traditional nursery, preschool, or elementary school, check out our Montessori Education Centers. We have seven centers in the Omaha area, and each is staffed with trained and experienced teachers who are committed to your child’s growth and development. Learn more about our schools and contact us today to schedule a tour of one of our facilities.
Why Small Is Often Better For Traditional Classrooms
In a traditional school setting, the teacher teaches. He or she instructs and imparts knowledge to students who are generally similar in age. During these classes, more often than not, all students are given the same goal and the class is focused on one subject—e.g. learning how to add and subtract, write letters, learn about chemical reactions, etc. Within this structure, it is ultimately up to the teacher to assess each student’s work, manage the classroom, keep students engaged, and do his or her best to ensure that each student has a firm understanding of the concept.
With all of these duties placed on the teacher, it can be easy to see how fewer students in a class would lead to more one-on-one time with each student and, therefore, a more impactful education. By and large—assuming the quality of teaching remains the same—research seems to suggest that this is the case: smaller class sizes can improve achievement among students. However, while this tendency may apply to a traditional education, it does not apply to alternative education settings, like Montessori schools.
Why Bigger Is Better In Montessori Schools
While it makes intuitive sense that smaller class sizes are better for traditional classrooms, Montessori schools are not traditional schools. Montessori learning revolves around exploration learning and creating an environment that leverages and strengthens children’s innate abilities to mentor, lead, and learn how to solve problems on their own. A key part of facilitating this type of environment is larger, mixed-age classrooms.
In a traditional classroom, most of the students are the same age. This naturally thwarts peer-to-peer learning and mentorship. Montessori centers, on the other hand, strive to enhance all the benefits of peer-to-peer learning, which is why they prefer bigger classrooms with students with different ages and abilities. This arrangement allows children to learn from older classmates and each other. It also helps expand exploration and motivation—for example, a five-year-old may see a seven-year-old doing division, which then piques his or her curiosity and motivation for exploring mathematics. In addition, this type of mentorship also reinforces knowledge since it requires older students to review what they’ve already learned.
Additionally, these larger, mixed classrooms foster independence. Rather than first turning to a teacher when facing a problem—like a student may do in a traditional classroom—Montessori students are taught to first turn to themselves, then a peer, then a mentor, then a teacher if they still can’t figure out the answer. This creates self-reliance, builds social and collaborative skills, and it mimics a supportive family structure that helps children feel confident and cared for.
Although it may sound slightly counter-intuitive, having bigger classrooms is actually a good thing when adhering to the Montessori philosophy. Having too many teachers and adults in a classroom can actually cause too much guidance, which can discourage children from fully benefiting from the benefits of peer learning and independent exploration. At Montessori schools, the primary role of the teacher is to guide students as they pursue answers to their burning questions. As a side note, it is important to mention that, although the Montessori method works best in larger classrooms, this is typically not the case for infant and daycare centers where the child-to-student ratio is given more importance.
Interested in learning more about the Montessori method? Check out our FAQ and contact us today with any questions. We have a network of Montessori centers, serving children from 6-weeks old to 12-years old, and we would love to give you a tour of any of our facilities.