Traditional education compartmentalizes learning into 50 minute segments of time for separate subjects. Montessori education is based on a 3-hour uninterrupted morning work cycle. This structure allows children to learn in an uninterrupted flow of time in alignment with their natural rhythms of interest. They stop and start at their own individual pace. They have the time to develop longer and longer moments of deep focus and concentration when the individual is most ready and receptive. This protected work schedule also gives children time for reflection and absorption of concepts without the need to rush into the next activity.
So how does this work? Children can pick which subject interests them at a given moment and decide the sequence for their work based on their own interest. For example, a child could choose to work on arithmetic with the Golden Bead material, followed by handwriting practice or reading. They can sit and listen to music or do art or geography. They also can attend to their own physical needs whenever they need to such as using the restroom, getting a drink of water or eating a snack. It isn’t necessary to cover all subject areas every day. There is an organic flow which evens out over time. The Montessori Guide (teacher) observes and makes notes of each child’s work and progress. If an area of the classroom (a subject area) is consistently ignored by a child, then she works to renew interest in it by giving new lessons or new variations. She may suggest working with another child who has a high interest in that area. Her own enthusiasm may spark a renewed interest for the children.
Morning is the peak learning time for most people and that’s why the 3-hour uninterrupted work cycle happens early in the day. Children who chronically arrive at school late in the morning disrupt not only their own opportunity to learn, but also disrupt the work of others. Many children cannot settle in to work until they know everyone is present (or accounted for). They want to greet their friends first and then begin focused work. A child who enters late disrupts the focus of the children who are already working. Also, for children who are chronically tardy, this creates an accumulation of lost learning time which impacts the entire community. Also in the Montessori community there are many shared responsibilities between the adult and children to set up the classroom for the day and to clean up at the end. Children who arrive late do not participate in these group activities and do no uphold their responsibilities to the group. They are not acting as full members of the community.
Parents can support all the children in the classroom and their own child’s optimal learning at school by making sure to follow a few basic suggestions. These include making sure their child is well rested, has eaten a healthy breakfast and arrives on time at school in a calm state, ready to take full advantage of all the opportunities and benefits of the 3-hour work cycle. In Montessori education, it is truly the child who “builds himself” but this can only happen when optimal conditions are met which include a relatively long uninterrupted time to develop focus and concentration. It’s truly amazing what children can accomplish when they are allowed to follow a natural flow of focus!
Marla Nargundkar, AMI Montessori Guide at Tree of Life Montessori School in Atlanta.