“Protect the three-hour work period with your life! It’s one of the most important ingredients in our method.”
~A Montessori Teacher
An uninterrupted three-hour work period is a fundamental component of the Montessori pedagogy and to the success of each individual child. Through many years of observation, Dr. Maria Montessori discovered that children, when left in a careful balance of freedom and responsibility, displayed a distinct three-hour cycle of work. The children would spend these long uninterrupted periods of time by freely choosing materials, becoming deeply engaged in productive, challenging work, and repeating lessons at their own pace and to their own satisfaction. Montessori determined that three hours is the required amount of time for a child to reach the most in-depth level of concentration and intellectual exploration, which results in the most significant progression and growth as well as a sense of inner-peace. True Montessori schools throughout the world continue to adhere to this method of an uninterrupted three- hour work period and have been for over 100 years!
The Montessori teacher, or “guide” is there to inspire and invite the children to explore with the materials rather than dictate what to do and when to do it. The Montessori philosophy believes that children should be presented with information when they are interested and developmentally ready, and not according to the schedule, the time of day, or their age. In order to allow for this profound exploration and discovery, the uninterrupted three-hour work period is indispensable. During this time, children work in small groups as well as independently with hands-on, didactic materials. The children become absorbed in their work because they have the freedom to choose to learn about something that fascinates them in their specific stage of development. The work cycle also provides an opportunity for classroom teachers to give lessons, observe, and provide guidance individually.
Each child deserves the opportunity to fully engross themselves in the work that captivates them, and a late arrival to the class not only takes away from that child’s experience, but disrupts the other children as well. Many children find it difficult to begin their work until they know all of their peers are present. They want to greet and welcome their friends before they begin their focused work. A child who enters late disrupts the concentration of the children who are already working. For children who are chronically tardy or absent, this creates an accumulation of lost learning time, which impacts the entire community. Also, in a Montessori classroom there are many shared responsibilities between the adult and the children to set up the classroom for the day and to clean up before dismissal. Children who arrive late or leave early do not participate in these group activities and do not uphold their responsibilities to the classroom. They are not acting as full members of the community.
Children are hesitant to choose challenging work if they are not anticipating they will have ample time to complete it. In Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius, Angeline Stoll Lillard states that, “Montessori teachers who adhere to three-hour work periods without interruption claim one can see the difference in the quality of the children’s concentration on days when children know they will be leaving the classroom in an hour for a doctor’s appointment or a special music class.” Children who expect to be interrupted choose unchallenging and unproductive “busy work”. Any disruption to the child’s work deters critical thinking, problem- solving, and exploration which is being developed.
In order to help prevent as many interruptions as possible, it is essential to establish a consistent routine at home so that everyone is able to get from one place to another on time. Understandably, life happens – traffic jams, inclement weather, unforeseen circumstances, etc. Children look to adults to learn how they should behave as human beings. If the precedence is set that it is acceptable to habitually walk in late to school, church, or a piano lesson, children begin to develop a pattern of arriving after events have begun and never really understand how their tardiness affects others. If children are offered a predictable routine and schedule so that they know the order of when things are happening, it often takes the stress and chaos out of leaving on time. They can depend on the same series of events to happen before they must be in the car and on the way to school, rehearsals, practices, etc. In his book Education for Human Development, Mario Montessori, Jr. reminds us that, “Adults are the representatives of the outer world and the most important source of guidance for the child. … Man is not born with pre-established behavior patterns but with the ability to form them during youth. He does this through his personal experiences in his interaction with the environment. These experiences are internalized, and thus structure his inner world.”
Parents can support all of the children in the classroom as well as their own child’s optimal learning and development by making sure to follow a few basic suggestions. These include making sure your child is well-rested, has eaten a healthy breakfast, and arrives on time at school, ready to take full advantage of all the opportunities and benefits presented by the uninterrupted three-hour work period. Limiting absences and tardiness when possible, and refraining from unnecessary early pick-ups will ensure that every child reaches their full potential and is set up for success.
“The mind takes some time to develop interest, to be set in motion, to get warmed up into a subject,
to attain a state of profitable work. If at this time there is interruption,
not only is a period of profitable work lost, but the interruption, produces an unpleasant sensation which is identical to fatigue.”
~Dr. Maria Montessori
BLOG POST WRITTEN BY: MS. TINA, CMS ELEMENTARY DIRECTRESS