By Brooke Byam
Sometimes parents ask me advice about whether to put siblings together in a classroom. As a multi-age teacher, I look forward to having siblings in the schoolroom. When siblings come to the classroom together, they enter an environment that focuses not only on academic achievement, but also on accepting each other's uniqueness in a public setting away from family. The schoolroom can provide a different perspective of a student's brother or sister and help them practice friendship skills that can become additional lifelong patterns to the practices they are learning in their family life.
Learning to respect each other
In the beginning of the year, siblings can learn to be self-sufficient while having the confidence inspired by a brother or sister in close proximity. For some children, little things like hanging up their own backpack or opening the bathroom door can be easier with their sibling near. I have often observed that an older child who leads his or her brother or sister around the room will realize that it no longer becomes necessary once the younger child is more capable and confident. Another rewarding moment is to see siblings learn to respect each other in group circle during sharing time. For example, siblings learn to allow each other to talk about family outings and accept each others' individual remembrances, thus learning that being respectful of others is a part of growing up. Interacting with a group of students involves some peer pressure to conform to school rules, so being able to let this happen comfortably can help foster harmony and a sense of community spirit.
Being in the classroom together helps siblings learn how to respect the accomplishments of each other. Older children may merely enjoy the fact that their siblings have learned something as simple as how to swing all by themselves – by watching them demonstrate this technique – and the younger counterparts are now successfully swinging independently and receiving the admiration of their school friends. In this situation, the school setting helps them become peers in an impersonal environment. Because the classroom by and large evokes a broader dynamic than in their familial interplay, children absorb this group peer imperative and formulate patterns of behavior in congruence with school expectations.
Learning how to resolve conflict
One goal in all Montessori classrooms is peace. We read Our Peaceful Classroom and discuss how to handle disagreements. We employ peace stones that we pass back and forth while talking calmly as we discuss what should happen during a disagreement. This is a way for everyone to acknowledge justice and consider kindness, as each party comprehends the components of equitability. This training creates a group commitment, as children learn to perform simple acts of kindness. We teach that the solution may not always seem fair, but sometimes must be accepted anyway. Even the youngest children take in the significance and learn to get the stones when there is a problem.
Siblings benefit in many ways from our classroom goals and they often carry over into relationships at home. It can begin with an action as simple as an older sister picking up a sweatshirt belonging to her younger sister, after she left it on the floor. In one family, the parents remarked at how nicely their girls were treating one another since they were both in school together. Other parents have also related that while having siblings together in the classroom, family interaction had become even more pleasant at home. Naturally, students who do not have siblings also assimilate and carry these ideas and techniques with them, as they grow. One of the Montessori ideals is to practice peace in the world. What better way to start than through sibling experience in the classroom?
How We Montessori: Why Montessori has multi-age classrooms (and why siblings often learn best from each other).
Our Peaceful Classroom, by Aline Wolf, 1991.
About the author
Brooke Byam is a lead teacher in The Summit Country Day School’s Montessori program. She is also a former board member of the Cincinnati Montessori Society. With more than 20 years of teaching experience, she has a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Northern Kentucky University and a master’s degree in education from Xavier University with a credential in reading.