The advantages and disadvantages in vertical grouping.


Maria Montessori believed that vertical grouping was a part of our natural development and that grouping children by their age was against our social nature. In order to develop individually, children need to be free to learn at their own pace. It is therefore an aid by vertical grouping to develop individually, since they can follow and guide each other from different levels of development rather than their current age group. 

Vertical grouping is of great benefit for both the younger and older groups. For example, when the older child is guiding a younger child into new knowledge or skill, he is repeating what he has learned himself. This will help organize his knowledge in his own mind, or it will be a practice to perfect his skill, in both cases it will become more firmly planted in his memory. An older child can also relate to the misunderstandings and difficulties the younger child might have while learning which creates a natural empathy and patience.The younger child often seems to be very interested in what the older child is doing and is given the opportunity to observe and learn from them. 

There’s a sense of inspiration and motivation in the classroom of vertical grouping. This creates a learning friendly and motivating atmosphere for the child and it’s intellectual and emotional development. 

Another great advantage is from the social interactions. It is very common that a younger brother or sister will learn, for example, to speak very early from having an older sibling to socialize with. The younger sibling would also develop motor skills, social skills, manners, communication and verbal expression faster from observing and copying. Vertical grouping gives the same affect to a child’s development because it motivates the child towards being fully stimulated.

Children seem to be drawn to different age groups. I was working with twin boys age 5 and one of them loved taking care of babies and toddlers when playing in playgrounds. He seemed to communicate very well with them, better in fact than with children his own age. The other twin often played with older children. He would get along with them very well and seemed to understand their discussions and arguments. This is a clear example of what I’ve seen a lot amongst children. Vertical grouping is not only important for an individual’s intellectual development but also social development as well as the social maturity levels from child to child as well

The cultural development is also highly dependent on getting to know and experience differences and similarities in the people surrounding the child. Different ages, as much as different backgrounds, nationalities, religious beliefs, gender, economic standards, help develop a sense of empathy and understanding of people. It helps broaden a child’s perspectives and also helps to find and accept a child’s own identity.  

Psychologist Lev Vygotsky had a theory that would help teachers teach and guide children more effectively. He called it the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). He stated that the child’s development could be divided into three zones or levels: 

Level of actual development - The zone of development where the child can work         independently without assistance. 

Zone of proximal development (ZPD) - This is the zone where the child can work and learn with assistance. Vygotsky claimed this was the right level for most efficient development. 

Level of potential development - The zone where a child can learn from a teacher or other adult but not learn independently.


“Students are most receptive to instruction within their ZPD because it represents the next logical step in their ongoing skill development.” (Lui:2012)

In a Montessori classroom the ages differ between stages of development rather than age, for the purpose of broadening the limits of individual learning. The children can therefore easily communicate and interact with each other. Because of this assortment in the classrooms the teaching philosophy is supporting the ZPD learning theory. 

If a child of age 3 is guided by a child of 5, the older child will not teach the 3 year old something out of the ZPD zone since his level of knowledge and skill is reachable and understandable for the child of 3.

It is however important to keep in mind that the only way vertical grouping will be beneficial for the child is if the teachers guide him towards these goals of developmental progress. If the teacher does not understand her role or the importance of the vertical group she becomes a disadvantage. The child has to learn not to interrupt another child in focus, how to ask for help from other children, how to interact with ease. If there is conflict or misunderstandings the teacher has to know when and how to step in to guide the children towards settlement or solution. Children who are constantly interrupted will become less focused, more easily distracted and therefore less independent learners. Vertical grouping needs to be dealt with the right way for it to be beneficial for the development. 

In the first Montessori school which Dr Montessori called the children’s house, she created a place where children could not only feel free but also to feel and act like family. It is an obvious truth that we learn a lot form our brothers and sisters, whether it’s from differences or similarities. We are socially driven by the people in our surroundings. A child who does not have a lot of social interaction with other children often feel inadequate and frustrated to be less able than an adult, to know less and to be less, while being in a group where there’s many children of different ages creates a sense of acceptance of self. The jealousy of wanting to be and know more turns into curiosity and that is the foundation of the benefits of vertical grouping. 


“To segregate by age …breaks the bonds of social life, deprives it of nourishment.” (Montessori: 2007) 




Lui, A                                            2012     Children’sProgress, Teaching in the zone.


Straaten, K                                          -     -, Montessori and mixed age groups.


Montessori, M                              2007     The absorbent mind, Montessori-Piersen 

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