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The Montessori Work Cycle
The Montessori Work Cycle

Dear Parents,

I would like to share some thoughts with you about the Montessori Work Cycle, which is a term used to identify the time during which a child selects a material from a shelf, works with it and returns it to the shelf.

Imagine, for a moment, the classroom through the eyes of a child. This may be the first time that a child finds a space in which everything is at the child's level. Nothing is out of reach. It is exciting, engaging and different. Some children cannot control themselves and want to touch absolutely everything at once.

The teacher guides the child to the works that are most easily introduced. It may be pouring dry beans from one vessel to another, building the Pink Tower, matching Color Tablets, mixing colors, playing The Bells or touching a Sandpaper Globe. Consider a pouring activity (which appears very simple to an adult): The child has to carry the tray, hopefully not dropping anything, and navigate through classmates to an available table. Imagine concentrating on doing this while considering the possibility of another child sitting at the table to which you are negotiating. Finally, tray full of materials in hand, the child situates at the table.

Unique to Montessori, the child may now engage in their chosen activity for as long or as short as they wish. A child may pour a couple of times or for ten minutes, or twenty. The level of concentration is determined by the child and observed by the teacher. When finished, the child pushes their chair in and takes the return trip to the shelves, where the materials are replaced for the next child to use.

Many of the activities are simple, with few steps (including fetching and returning the work from/to the shelf) and others are more complicated... when the child is ready for it to be more complicated.

Polishing is an example of a more complex work because of the many steps and complicated sequences a child must follow to complete it. Some very young three-year-olds are drawn to polishing right from the start even though their concentration might not be fully-enough developed to follow all of the sequences. The teacher tailors the number of steps for the initial lesson. Over time, the teacher adds steps (for example, replenishing the supplies). As the child's mind more acutely follows the steps and focuses on the new steps, the child is constantly curious: "What else might be next?" "How do I get the polish off?" "What should I be doing with the soiled cloth?" The child's curiosity and acuity are constantly engaged and expanded upon.

This work cycle – so ever-present in the primary classroom – lays the groundwork for children that they will employ at the upper levels and in their adult lives. Through the work cycle, children learn to identify and access resources, prioritize, sequence, follow steps, take care to respect others and their environment, and, of course, put things back where they found them so that others may also use them.


Kevin Clark

Head of School