Hard work is child’s play

Inside Escuela: Montessori Materials – The Three-Year Cycle

One of the key components of the Primary and Elementary classrooms is the three-year cycle. Each classroom is composed of mixed ages, and children stay in the same environment for three years. Like many components of Montessori education, this is an intentional design with numerous benefits. Whether it’s the magical kindergarten year of the Primary classroom or the third year in a Junior or Senior Elementary classroom, the third year of this cycle is critical. This final year allows children to integrate the knowledge they have learned in the classroom, synthesize key concepts, and experience the responsibility and freedom of being a role model. This structure provides a family-like setting where peer mentors abound.
Inside Escuela: Montessori Materials – The Three-Year CycleA veteran Montessori teacher once explained the three-year cycle in the following way: a Montessori classroom is like a bakery. In the first year, you find all of the ingredients. In the second year, you mix them all together. But the third year is truly magical – that year, you take the cake out of the oven and feel amazed by the result. This analogy is a great one because it shows the significant advantages of a three-year classroom cycle. Whether in the Early Childhood or Elementary levels, guides often remark on the remarkable accomplishments and revelations of the third-year child. The third year allows children to consolidate social-emotional and intellectual skills, and develop greater self-awareness and pride in their unique gifts and abilities.
One of the benefits of the three-year cycle is that it allows for the development of meaningful social relationships among students and their adult guides. In the Montessori setting, children develop a true sense of community, where guides and students have time and space to develop an authentic understanding of each individual. Rather than needing to reset and begin again each year as in conventional schools, children can build upon relationships formed in the first year. This benefit also extends to the guides; after getting to know each child’s personality, strengths, and learning style in the initial year, they are better prepared to support each student in their individual learning for the remainder of their experience in the classroom community. Students also have time to shape their classroom community. Over time, they learn about the ground rules of the classroom, how to adapt and revise them, and how to problem-solve when issues arise. The oldest children at each level gain experience facilitating classroom meetings and helping to mediate for younger peers. As a result, they leave the classroom with the tools for social success well in hand.Inside Escuela: Montessori Materials – The Three-Year CycleAnother benefit is familiarity with the classroom setting and materials. In the Montessori classroom, the adult guide presents key materials in the classroom with clear lessons that introduce new concepts and invite exploration. However, any great Montessori teacher knows that the most powerful learning happens through independent work on the part of the child as they make their own exciting discoveries. Most materials have multiple lessons that are introduced at different points in academic progress. Being in the same environment for three years allows children to return to materials repeatedly, making new discoveries and solidifying knowledge. Watching the oldest children in the classroom demonstrate their knowledge to younger students is one sign of the consolidation of information, evidence of mastery of a concept. The familiarity of the classroom, knowing where items are located, and how the routines of the community are applied allows them to focus on learning and amplifies independent exploration.

However, the most significant benefit of a three-year cycle is how it empowers individuals to become their best selves. Dr. Montessori reminds us that the real work of the child, rather than any academic task, is to construct the individual they will become. In our Montessori classrooms, each child gets to experience being the youngest and oldest community member over the three-year cycle. For the youngest children, in their first year, there are role models close to their age throughout the community. Dr. Montessori often pointed out that these students can sometimes explain concepts to their classmates in ways that make more sense than information presented by an adult. The benefits for older children are equally valuable. As they naturally share their knowledge and experience with younger students, they develop a sense of self-worth through their contributions to the community. They develop pride in the knowledge they have mastered and can now share. They build confidence through their newly acquired independence and their ability to direct their own learning. And these qualities and deep understanding of who they are as individuals, do far more than prepare them for the next stage of school – it prepares them for life.

–By Emily Schuyler, Montessori Guide