Eleven years ago when designing the school, I didn't have enough experience to value the spacial needs of the Montessori environments. As a result, the classroom footprint was decreased from those left behind at Blackstock. Fast forward after a decade of squeezing in and out of Primary classrooms, we now have our first, perfectly-suited classroom space to grow an authentic, Montessori Primary community. By removing a dividing wall last summer, our Primary Two classroom is spacious enough to increase the roster to the recommended (by Maria) size of 25-35 students. Yep, that's right, a minimum of 25 students is what is considered for a well functioning 3-6 Primary class. When you try to translate these stats to a traditional style classroom one's hair stands on end, so don't do that. Instead, let's look at the variables that support a large class size in Montessori.
Contrary to traditional programs, Montessori students are seldom presented materials or skills as a whole class. The few times the multi-age group of 25 or more are gathered together as one usually involves singing, dancing, story time, or another brief teachable moment. The meat of the Montessori curriculum is presented one-on-one, or in small groups of 2-5 students.
Diversity in learning partners increases with class size. Age, maturation, learning styles, temperaments, personalities, as well as strengths or talents, even the youngest child's unique attributes are recognized and honored in the Montessori community. As an integral component of the Montessori method, receiving lessons, having work checked, and eventually working with a partner are all emphasized as community and individual goals at every level. We already know how peer influence works, so I'll just add that learning from a peer is waaaaaay cooler and results in more impressionable outcomes than the isolated adult to child experience. Yes, child to child instruction occasionally goes south. When it turns into more socializing than productivity, or more critiquing than helpful, the keen eye of the teacher moves in to "guide" the situation. Mind you, there is a time and place for these experiences to be most effective, and not all children are ready to be in the "educator" role at the same time. Having a larger pool to select this role from increases the odds of more frequent and successful peer teaching experiences.
Emphasis of social development and wellness is a fundamental tenet of the Montessori philosophy. The components that go into becoming a "community" of learners result from the opportunities to exchange and interact throughout the day in a variety of contexts. From quietly checking a younger child's rhyming work, to setting the table for lunch, children are practicing patience, communication, tolerance, and compromise. In classes where the three-year age span is well balanced, these interactions are more varied and represent more "real world" experiences.