Andrew Pudewa, the founder of Excellence in Writing and an advocate for multi-aged classrooms, points out that children are not born in litters. We are born into multi-aged families and it is not healthy socially to confine children to single-aged classrooms for most of their childhood. Pecking orders always exist in any group of people, but in the age-grouped classroom the pecking order is worked out in ways that can be very painful, as many might remember.
But in a multi-aged classroom, working out the pecking order is a much simpler and a far less painful experience. When you are eight years old, finding yourself in the pecking order beneath a student who is four years older than you is not very humiliating at all, and certainly not something worth fighting about. It is just natural. Likewise, there is not much sense in a nine-year-old exalting himself over a six-year-old; it’s not a big deal, and if the nine-year-old were foolish enough to give a six-year-old a hard time, a twelve-year-old will probably straighten him out. This is something that has been discovered by the homeschooling movement and Montessori schools. Homeschoolers have also found that their children are much more comfortable dealing with children older than them, and they are kinder to younger children as well. Such children are also more at ease conversing with adults, a very helpful trait as one reaches adulthood.
In an age-grouped classroom children who are socially awkward or simply shy tend to have a rough go of it. But in the multi-aged classroom such students can flourish. The shy tend to be able to talk with the younger students and gain experience in social interactions and conversations. The socially awkward students tend to grate against those of the same age, but younger students are more accepting of the socially challenged.
The multi-aged classroom is also more conducive to children maturing. Younger children admire the older students and model themselves after them, and the older students do not tolerate immature, childish behavior. In the age-graded classroom, the mature student is labeled teacher’s pet, and no one wants to be that. But in the multi-aged classroom, the mature students are generally the older students and the younger students definitely want to be like them.
Benefits for the family
In addition to having children who are happier, learning more, and becoming responsible, the family benefits from the Independent Learner model in other ways. Because students learn independently, missing class time for a medical appointment is not an issue. They have not missed any of the teacher’s instruction to the class. The students just continue on when they get back to class. The same applies when students are home with an illness. In fact, they can continue their studies from home without a problem if they are not terribly sick. Independent learners do not lose out by going on a vacation with the family, either. As we learn from Laura Ingalls Wilder, in the one-room school students came to school when they could. If they needed to take a few weeks off to help bring in the crops, they did. If they were needed at home to care for a sick family member, it was not a problem. When they returned to school, they continued from where they left off.
There is also the advantage that, theoretically, your children could all have the same teacher for the grammar school years. Three siblings in the modern school could each have a different teacher for each grade, meaning the parents could have to familiarize themselves with twenty-one different teachers by the time their children reach sixth grade. At Sea Island School your children would likely all have the same teacher for as many years as they all remain. If you think your child’s teacher is great, then your child can have a great teacher for many years.