Most parents when asked whether they would prefer a smaller class or larger class size for their child, their answer is usually a smaller classroom. Upon first glance, it would seem to make sense as the assumption is that in a smaller class, each child gets more attention from the teacher and will be able to have their education be more catered to them. Larger class sizes are often associated with high student to teacher ratios, scarcity of attention and chaos. And in traditional educational classrooms, all those assumptions are probably correct.
But we aren’t a traditional classroom. In a Montessori classroom, a larger class size is actually preferred. Maria Montessori herself wrote, “We consider that in its best condition, the class should have between 28-35 children, but there may be even more in number.” There are several specific reasons for this, however it all boils down to the fact that Montessori classrooms are structured and function very differently than traditional classrooms.
The role of the teacher in the classroom is the primary difference in a Montessori classroom. The teacher does not actually act like your typical teacher standing in front of a chalkboard teaching a lesson with children sitting at their desks. In a Montessori classroom the teacher serves as a guide. This guide presents new material to children in small groups or individually and then allows time for independent working. That style paired with the mixed age classroom allows for students to not only learn from the teacher but also teach and learn from each other as well as have time to independently follow their interests. This time for independent learning in the prepared environment classroom allows children to foster their love of learning and understand topics and concepts at a much deeper level. Further, it allows their intrinsic motivation to learn to flourish.
Having mixed age and larger class sizes allow students to learn from each other. The younger students of the classroom have older children to look up to and also learn from, while the older children get the opportunity to teach the new material they learn. Explaining new material and answering questions has been shown to not only allow the student to recognize where they have a gap in their knowledge and also allows the material to go from short term memory and simply memorization to a deeper level of understanding. More students with this type of learning style means more opportunities to process material in that way and for younger kids, more exposure to advanced material, leading to quicker advancement.
The unique structure and style of a Montessori classroom creates an environment that gains from a larger class size and allows students to be able to access the full plethora of benefits available with this educational philosophy.