The Montessori three-year cycle is designed to support the holistic development of a child, allowing them to progress at their own pace and explore a wide range of subjects in a hands-on, experiential manner.
The multi-age classroom promotes peer learning, as older children mentor and model for younger ones, creating a supportive and nurturing educational community.
This cycle aligns with Dr. Maria Montessori’s educational philosophy, which emphasizes individualized learning, respect for the child’s natural development, and the creation of a prepared environment that fosters independence and a love of learning. It’s important to note that while the three-year cycle is a core feature of Montessori preschool programs, the principles of Montessori education can extend into the elementary and adolescent levels with variations in structure and approach.
Taking on a series of roles
Montessori schools, including Post Oak, have a reputation for being amazing preschools. However, they challenge the norm of a traditional preschool environment. The curriculum is vast and built on a three-year cycle to follow a child’s developmental needs and growth. Children enter the Primary level in Montessori close to three years old. It is their home, where they find their role first as the youngest, then the middle child, and then the oldest, and they learn the responsibilities of their roles as they experience each year.
First year (ages 3–4). During this year, children are introduced to the Montessori environment and materials by their teacher, receiving individual lessons. They begin to develop foundational skills in areas such as practical life (activities of daily living), sensorial exploration, math, language, and cultural subjects. The emphasis is on individual exploration and the development of concentration, independence, and self-discipline.
The child sees others a foot taller and figures out how to learn from them. They are mentees with many mentors. But they also come furiously independent wanting to do their own thing. That thee-year-old is very busy!
Second year (ages 4–5). The second year builds upon the foundation laid in the first year. Children continue to work with Montessori materials, but they do so with more confidence and skill. They delve deeper into the subjects and materials, refining their abilities and exploring more advanced concepts. They want to connect more with others, so there is peer teaching, sharing, and group work. They are developing a greater understanding of their responsibility and role as a leader.
Third year (ages 5–6): In the third year of the cycle, children typically serve as leaders and mentors in the classroom. They take on greater responsibilities and often help guide younger children who are new to the Montessori environment. By the end of the third year, children are generally well-prepared for the transition to elementary education, having developed a strong educational foundation and a sense of responsibility.
Every step leads to the next stage
The three-year cycle is based on a sequence of learning. This sequential work repeats itself in many ways in the Primary classroom. Completing a cycle of activity is important for a child’s development, which is why we recommend committing to the entire three-year cycle to get the full benefit.
Developing a mathematical mind. Let’s look at an example of sequential learning. We begin introducing math around age four. There is a particular material in the sensorial area that prepares children to move into the first piece of material in math—it’s called the red rods in sensorial and the number rods in math. They both look the same, except that the number rods are colored by sections, red and blue, for them to be countable. So, if a child can discriminate the length, the next stage is to give length a name—this is one; this is two. They are learning to understand what that abstract concept of a number means. When they know the quantity, then we introduce the numbers and associate them together.
Mistakes and intrinsic rewards. As their skills grow, they will start working with equations. In the beginning, it’s important we don’t correct a child’s answers in math. They need to make errors on the path to mastery and perfection. Also, children don’t get a sticker if they do something right—they are internally joyful about the experience of working. The child who is close to five is introduced to the checking chart to check answers and see how they did. This process allows the child to develop an intrinsic reward for doing the work instead of using an external motivation that can lead to disinterest and a lack of enthusiasm when the reward is removed.
The teacher as a guide
The three-year commitment requires you to think about why you are choosing Montessori. To learn to read earlier or work on math younger? Or did you choose it for the bigger picture—do I want my child to be a good citizen of the world, and what does that constitute? The three-year-old is coming in with parents who have different ideas, but the child has the same developmental needs as others their age. This is where the Montessori-trained teacher comes in to expertly guide the child along their path. They are trained to see where the child’s interests are because the Montessori method comes from the power of observation of the teacher.
In every lesson we give, we have this trust of giving integrity to the young child. The teacher gives the lesson and fades away. The child keeps practicing and practicing until they master the work. Do we want them to learn it the very first time? No, because then what happens to the process? The child keeps practicing, and the teachers watch and know when to intervene and support the next steps.
Looking forward to the third year (Kindergarten year)
- It marks the passage from early childhood to childhood.
- The child’s early experiences are internalized and reinforced.
- Earlier lessons come together and become a permanent part of their understanding (e.g., bank game > operations > memorization exercises).
- They have opportunities to lead and guide the younger children. This helps the five-year-old to consolidate their knowledge. Moreover, the child awaits the opportunity to play this role.
- It reinforces their self-confidence: they are cooperative and competent.
- It gives a foundation for abstract understanding, especially in math and language.
- Very often, children are reading and writing during their third year, so they are ready to be introduced to reading analysis, grammar symbols, and word studies.
- The five-year-olds begin to reflect on what they know and how they relate to the world—the third year gives them this gift to integrate everything they learned in the first two years.
- There are opportunities to learn about countries of the world, art history, and music composition.
- Academics flow into the artistic: children create a story by writing and illustrating it.
- They move from sensorial explorers to abstract thinkers and seek to explore facts about their world.
- The child develops a thirst for knowledge about the world.
A parent’s perspective on the three-year cycle
“It’s not the reading, or math, or ability to recite the parts of an arthropod. The qualities a Montessori classroom has brought out in our son are more intangible than that, but no less wonderful. The effects are revealed through his kindness and patience with younger children, his dependability and grace, his pride and confidence in accomplishing a challenging task—this inner sense of peace radiates in all that he does. No doubt, this potential was within him all along.”
This article was originally posted here