When an older child is encouraged to help a younger child in a Montessori classroom, their own learning is surprisingly enhanced, rather than limited. The older child is more sensitive to the degree of help the younger child needs, intuitively respecting the essential need of childhood which is not to be helped unnecessarily.
In ‘teaching’ a younger child he is helped to understand what he knows even better than before; he must analyse and rearrange his knowledge before he can pass it on. Competence breeds confidence which in turn leads to a greater sense of responsibility.
Each child gains confidence in moving freely about the room as he seeks an activity, greeting and talking with others, discussing activities, offering assistance, asking and answering questions, and generally helping each other in many ways. It is in the child's nature to consult the more experienced when they need help, and most often they will spontaneously seek out an older child.
The teacher may also encourage a child who needs help to ask another. This approach suggests to the first child that there are no absolute or final answers, but rather people working together to improve their understanding. Another advantage is that a child who lacks self-esteem can be greatly encouraged when someone else comes to him for help. The older children realise their progress when they see a younger child attempting things which they now find easy.
Children naturally grow to understand that some people are more experienced in some things, but that everyone needs a little help from others. This contributes to the spontaneous development of community life which is one of the most remarkable outcomes of the Montessori approach.
Author: Carol-Ann McKinley, Titoki Montessori School, Auckland, New Zealand
First Published: Montessori Voices, June 2009.