A Montessori home of mixed-aged siblings offers many of the benefits of vertically aged groupings (often spanning three years) in a Montessori class. A wide range in years and development encourages the best in everyone. It is an ideal platform for preparing a child for life enriched by diversity of different ages and abilities. Children are always looking out for each other, cooperation over competition is fostered and each child is encouraged to grow at their own pace.
Maria Montessori believed that a child strengthens their skills and knowledge by demonstrating or communicating it to others. A younger child seems to be most comfortable when surrounded by an older child and enjoys learning from them. At some stage everyone is the younger child as a learner and the older child has the opportunity to be the model and practice leadership and empathy.
Tips on how to ‘follow’ each child
- Plan your home environment or play space so that all children can use it e.g. a tummy time mat for an infant close to a rug or table and chair for an older child. This allows each child to observe and learn from each other.
- Organise learning materials so lower shelves are allocated for a younger child and higher shelves for an older child.
- Avoid multiples of the same material. Demonstrate that a material is unavailable if it is in use and encourage taking turns as sharing.
- Adapt simplified versions of an activity for a younger child where suitable.
- Ensure any small parts are secured in sealed containers which only an older child can open.
- Celebrate each child’s individuality by not instilling roles such as the ‘big sister’ or ‘baby brother.’ It places undue pressure on each child.
- Consider one to one time with each child and parent as much as family time.
- Provide each child their own personal space and routine where needed.
- Offer siblings opportunities to work together such as unpacking the groceries.
When siblings conflict, what are next the steps?
As with all human beings and especially siblings conflict is normal and healthy. Through disagreement we are learning about each other’s ideas and feelings. The parental role is to offer a safe space to learn how to resolve conflict so one day your children will be confident to do it in the real world.
Non-intervention. Often there is no need to step-in if each child is physically safe, emotions are not escalated and if everyone is able to communicate.
Sportscast. This is where a parent provides a neutral and unbiased commentary of events to help everyone understand what is happening e.g. "I see Tom is working with bird puzzle. I hear that Maya would like to use the bird puzzle and is upset and crying. Tom is not finished yet.” This often sufficient to help children work through an issue.
Keep proximity & redirect/block. On occasions siblings will become physical. Staying calm can be difficult but redirect or block the child who is trying break concentration or hurt the other child e.g. “I cannot let you hit your sister. Would you like to help me prepare dinner?” Provide comfort for any child who has been hurt and try not to react by blaming or shaming another child.
- Observe if needs are being met. Consider if the prepared home environment is meeting everyone’s needs in terms of physical layout, materials and routine and if changes need to be made.
It will never be smooth sailing all the time. And that’s ok. As a parent you cannot ‘succeed’ all the time with mixed-aged siblings. This too will be a learning opportunity for you and your children.