When a child begins his day in a Montessori classroom, he knows exactly what to expect. He arrives, hangs up his coat, greets his Guides and peers, and then he works for three hours. In Montessori, this is known as the three-hour work cycle, an intentional amount of time for the student to fully manifest concentration and independence in his work.
In her book, “The Absorbent Mind,” Maria Montessori wrote, “The child can only develop fully by means of experience within his environment.” In a three-hour work cycle, students have an opportunity to focus solely on the work they choose for however long they’d like. There are no interruptions, only peaceful time to engage, familiarize, and master the work.
Like adults, children can take time to begin their day. They might want to walk around the classroom, greet the day and settle in for a bit. While others are eager to choose work and dive in, some might want to take their time to decide what piques their interest. The three-hour work cycle allows for this gentle freedom, and the child comes to trust that this period of time is his alone.
They do not have to rush through their work of choice for fear a friend will take it away or that a teacher will disrupt them. Instead, once they have chosen a material off the shelf, they know to find a spot in the room that is comforting to them, settle into their work and return it to the shelf when they are satisfied or fatigued.
What is False Fatigue?
Maria Montessori observed in her classroom that, after about two hours of work, some students would experience false fatigue. A child might walk around the classroom aimlessly and disruptive or appear tired or anxious. Instead of reprimanding this behavior, Montessori recognized this as a time for the child to take a break and then resettle back into the environment on his own time.
For most, this takes no more than 10 minutes, and the guide in the classroom needn’t do much. Perhaps a child needs to be redirected or needs emotional support. False fatigue isn’t cause for alarm, only an opportunity for the child to realize he can settle himself independently and continue to take charge of his day.
Intervention vs. Interference
Amid a three-hour work cycle, a Guide can be seen walking continuously throughout the classroom, observing the children and offering lessons as needed. During this child’s work time, it can be enticing for the adult to praise a child for good work. And we mean well when we praise a child for his efforts — simply eager to declare pride and joy in all they do! — but our words often take children away from whatever it is they are concentrating on. Sometimes an adult might even like to make small comments merely so the child knows an adult is present and paying attention, but these easy words interrupt the hands at work and the child’s inner quiet during his sacred work cycle.
Praise can create dependency, too. Even to say, “Good job!” or, “I love how clean the dishes look today!” can make the child reliant upon positive feedback rather than being self-motivated.
“Once you interfere,” Montessori says, “a child’s interest finishes, and the enchantment of correcting himself is broken. It is as though he says, ‘I was with myself inside. But you called me, and so it is finished. Now this material has no more importance for me’. A child does not need praise; praise breaks the enchantment.”
The three-hour work cycle is a child’s special time to himself. He is choosing work for himself, learning to problem solve and self-motivated toward bigger work. He is not driven to please anyone, only the desire to maximize the time he has to enjoy his workday, which fosters discipline, confidence, and reflection.
Recommended for you: