Our Montessori primary program is designed as a three-year cycle. Much of the material and exercises in the first year or two not only help the child achieve a direct, immediate goal (such as dressing and cleaning after themselves, or learning the sounds of each letter of the alphabet), but also serve an indirect purpose of laying the foundation for future work and learning. For example, the math material is a series of exercises that guides the child starting with the most concrete and basic introduction to numbers and quantity.
Over the three years the lessons build upon themselves, adding layers of abstractness and an increasing understanding of mathematical concepts, until the child is eventually able to add, subtract, multiply, and divide — with a deeply ingrained understanding of what those operations mean — using only pencil, paper, and his or her head.
There is also a social component. The mixed-age grouping is not accidental. Each child benefits from being exposed to those who are older, and younger, than they are. The younger children have role models to look up to from the very first day of class. They quickly learn how to behave and what is acceptable from watching the older children. They also see the older children working on the more advanced material, which piques their interest and curiosity.
The older children, in turn, benefit from being mentors to the younger ones. One of the best ways to internalize knowledge is to explain it to others, and often an older child will help teach certain concepts to a younger child. The oldest children in the classroom naturally take on a position of leadership, which has been modeled for them by the children before them. This opportunity to lead can be a huge advantage for many children and helps them build confidence and self-esteem before they enter the school environment.