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Over the years, it’s quite common for parents to come to us to say that, since their child is so advanced academically, they worry that the class they are in now is not sufficiently challenging. It is not unusual for parents to ask the school to move them up a year early next term.

There’s no one response that schools offer, but I think there are a few things to consider.

Typically, parental fear of their child being disadvantaged by being the most advanced in a Montessori classroom is based on a misperception.

Unlike traditional schools, where the pace of education is based upon the norm of the class, the Montessori curriculum follows an international model rather than what is commonly taught in American schools. In general, Montessori programs are more sophisticated and individualized in many ways.

In the United States, in the first three grades (kindergarten through second grade), it is fairly common to teach children number recognition and simple mathematical operations with one or two-digit quantities. Math can be very abstract, and some children memorize answers but may or may not understand what they’re doing.

Likewise, with reading, many children are asked to read from simplistic texts or workbooks that have more to do with spelling and vocabulary than with really giving them a love of the written word, no less a desire to express themselves in writing.

While there is a real concern about math education in the United States, many students are not culturally literate in history, geography, economics, science, civics, and our cultural heritage found in the arts and literature.

Like most schools that follow European tradition, Montessori places a huge emphasis on what some people call the ‘cultural subjects.’ These topics include, science; technology; history; geography; international studies; the foundations of industry and trade; architecture; engineering; and so much more. Montessori’s breadth of curriculum tends to produce young people who have far more knowledge of their country’s history, government, and heritage than most Americans.

So, we have three basic issues. The first is that in Montessori, children don’t learn at a preestablished pace. They are not only able to choose the things that most interest them but to learn in ways that they find most appealing. Children are different. Some learn best by listening to someone else talk; others learn by observing, and many need to directly experience to understand and remember. There are so many variations in the way children learn, and it’s challenging to know what’s right for an individual child.

The second issue is that no teacher can work with each child every moment of the day. That’s the beauty of Montessori’s prepared learning environment. It allows children to find meaningful work without having to depend on a teacher telling them what to do throughout the day.

Another consideration is that most of us learn best not by simply receiving a lesson; repeated experiences along with the opportunity to help (or teach) other children solidifies the skill or concept. The best teacher of the typical student is usually not the adult with a master’s degree in education; rather, it is often other students who have a grasp of the material and are willing to share their understanding with a fellow student.

The third point is that a child who remains in a Montessori multi-age class is surrounded by other students (younger and older) who have their own gifts and talents to share. They stimulate each other. The beauty of the Montessori experience is that the class is a community, not simply a group of children who are focused on the lesson that the teacher happens to be giving. This ongoing set of relationships builds a sense of safety and security for most children, both with their peers and with the adults in their lives. As parents, we need to understand how incredibly valuable that is.

So, the trade-off to having a child move up a year early is not so much that the child will get lessons that they couldn’t get in the younger class, as much as that they would be moving up into a class, where the age range is going to be three or four years beyond their current level.

Every child is different and there are times when moving a child up early actually is worth considering. In my experience, I never followed a hard and fast rule. We always try to explore with the family why they feel this is a good idea? Here are some points parents and educators should consider:

• Is it accurate that the current class really can’t meet the child’s intellectual and academic needs?

• Do the parents feel a strong urge to push their child ahead more quickly? If so, why? What do they hope to gain? What are the pros and cons?

• Or is it fear that their child will miss opportunities that they would have at the next level?

These are all legitimate questions, but we must weigh them against the advantage of stable, continuing relationships. Having been one of those students, who was moved up a year early at one point along my journey, I found it difficult to be a year younger than the youngest child in the classroom. So, if you ever come to the conclusion that, perhaps, your child might do well to move up, try to really think it through with the school and weigh the pros and the cons.

Montessori is based on the idea that each child follows her own pace and that education is a journey, not a race.

Montessori classes are not only about academics. The focus is social and emotional, as well. While a five-year-old may be reading like a six-year-old, this same child may socially and emotionally be better suited to remaining in a class with familiar children. Being among the oldest and most advanced creates the possibility of becoming a leader. Don’t undervalue how wonderful that experience can be.

Montessori is based on the idea that each child follows her own pace and that education is a journey, not a race.

Other than saving a year’s tuition if your child attends a private Montessori school, there are few (if any) benefits for a child who finishes high school early. Beginning university younger than the other students in their class may again present same social, emotional, and academic challenges, depending on the student.

Appreciating Montessori’s ability to meet children at their intellectual level is one of the greatest gifts of Montessori education. I always recommend that parents follow their hearts, but I do advise every parent to be thoughtful and careful before leaping to a decision.

Try to find the best path for your child, and always remember that it’s important to ask them what they really want to do. Listen carefully to their reasoning. Sometimes the reasoning makes perfect sense; sometimes it doesn’t make any sense at all. Weigh your conclusions and follow your parental instincts. That’s all any of us can do. •