“The fundamental basis of education must always remain that one must act for oneself. That is clear. One must act for him or herself.” –Dr. Maria Montessori
It's quite the anomaly to change the old saying "bad things happen in threes" and view it in a new light. In Montessori, it seems that we believe GOOD things happen in threes. For example, the children are provided with a three hour work period each day. For true concentration to occur and for the child to fully orient and peacefully adapt to an authentic Montessori environment, they must master a three step work cycle. Our magic to aid in their development of memory and recall is presented in a three period lesson and of course, an obvious one: our environments are bracketed by a three-year age span following the Human Tendencies of Development. Now, why so many three's and what do these concepts really mean? For this post, I will focus on the first two. In future posts I will outline the last two. As always, I'll do my best to (KISS) keep it sweet and simple to help you find the beauty in this conundrum of threes.
The Three Hour Work Period
We have all experienced situations when we were interrupted, pulled from or completely redirected from pure fascination and exploration. Consider the analogy comparing Montessori to a traditional model. You are in class sitting at your desk, at last understanding that tricky math problem your teacher just explained by sketching on the blackboard. It took you several tries you needed many questions answered then suddenly it 'clicks.' Finally, you feel relieved, determined, engaged and ready to take on the rest of the equations. What's that sound? THE BELL! Times up, game-over, you once again lost your light. Time to switch gears to something completely different. Now, imagine revisiting that concept at a later time. You are dreading it, you're not in the groove or mood. The learning is now forced, tedious and more difficult.
It doesn't take much to think of other examples on your own but I think we can agree that it's frustrating. Furthermore, we can all concur that our BEST work happens when we are focused, engaged and successful. The Three Hour Work Period provides the children with the opportunity to become as deeply immersed in an activity as their inner guide ables them to be. This is a true gift and protector for the child's innermost formation. However, to reach this state of focus the child must trust in himself. This trust develops through practice and repetition. The child must have self assurance that it's alright to make mistakes and have the confidence to learn from them.
Only then will the child find happiness from this persistence. The Three Hour Work Cycle provides the child with efforts and challenges to face aspects including social collaboration, academic progression and the respect to explore the tasks of the world. An integral part of this lies within the Guide and Assistant. The adults must also learn the boundaries of when to interrupt and when to take note to represent. Concentration must be wholeheartedly respected from all personalities.
Three Step Work Cycle
It's as easy at one-two-three! I'm sure you can tell, we Montessorian's LOVE the word, concentration! Well, here we see it again but we can also throw in some other terms that directly effect the development of Executive Functions! Executive Functions is an umbrella term for the neurologically based skills involving mental control and self-regulation. Executive Functions can be broken down into categories: organization (gathering/structuring information) and regulation (keeping pace/staying on track). This magnificent concept, The Three Step Work Cycle allows the child to step towards independence as well as higher cognitive functioning. The subtypes of executive functions include, planning, task initiation, goal-directed persistence, sequencing/prioritizing, organization, response inhibition, pace/time management, shift (flexibility), self-monitoring, emotional control, sustained attention and working memory.
“Executive functions are more important for school readiness than IQ, continue to predict math and reading competence throughout all school years, and remain critical for success throughout life including career and marriage, and for positive mental and physical health.” -Dr. Adele Diamond, Professor of Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience at University of British Columbia
Here are the steps:
1. Gather and organize materials needed for activity.
2. Purposefully engage, explore, discover and concentrate with the material.
3. Re-organize, replace and return materials to specific place.
Well, this may sound achievable, simple and tangible but how on earth does this Three Step Work Cycle aid all of those executive work functions!? Here's a typical scenario of what this process might look like for a child of 3-6: Note: Hypothetical names.
Johnny decided (for himself) that he will work on a lesson that he's had - the Map of the United States (task initiation). He walks to find a 'large rug' from the barrel where they are kept in the classroom (begins sequencing). As he approaches the barrel, he sees that there are no 'large rugs' left. Johnny is immediately faced with a dilemma; "should I scrap that idea and choose something else or should I continue on my quest to work with the Map of the US?" He decides to check the black stand where the 'smaller rugs' are typically kept (goal-oriented persistence) and what do his eyes bestow? A misplaced large rug! Fantastic! Johnny finds a space in the classroom to unroll his rug.
Again, sounds simple but the rug must not touch a shelf, chair or another person's work and we must be able to walk all the way around it. He chooses a place and unrolls his rug by placing it on the floor, unrolling toward him and checking his surroundings (sequencing, planning, self-monitoring). Now to find a friend to help carry his map. Hmmm…. everyone around Johnny seems to be working (remember: we respect the concentration!). Again, he must make a decision: "should I interrupt Bobby or continue my search for a friend who is available to help." Boy, oh, boy that persistence is a beautiful sight! Johnny decides to be patient (response inhibition, emotional control, shifting). He finds Greg who has just returned a material to the shelf and approaches him, "Greg will you please help me carry my map?" So the two carry the map to the rug, Johnny says, "thank you." He begins his work by removing all of the states that he knows the names of on the right side of the rug (organization, planning, sustained attention). The Montessori Guide joins him and asks him to recall the states he has removed (working memory). She then engages him in a Three Period Lesson to learn more names until she observes he has acquired enough for that time period.
She leaves him to continue his work. Johnny is faced with yet another choice: "Should I put this work away now? Am I satisfied? What else can I do with this work?" Along with all of the outer and inner stimuli and temptations that Johnny is enduring (hunger, something fell and shattered, people are giggling next to him, it's starting to rain, someone tripped and is crying, etc.) he continues his work! He decides he will 'draw' the map. He walks to the shelf to retrieve a large paper. He carries the paper back to his rug and remembers that he either needs a table or a chowki 'small table' (task initiation, planning, sequencing).
He realizes that there are no tables available nearby so he goes to find a chowki (shifting, planning, pacing, organizing). Phew! There is one available. He brings the chowki over and lays his paper on top. Now he needs to find colored pencils and a sharpener. He returns to his work and begins concentrating on creating his map. When he is finished he must do that entire sequence basically in reverse to reorganize and return his material. Now, let's IMAGINE the satisfaction and the look on his face when he places his masterpiece into his folder to complete another day (these maps take a while). He is BEAMING with joy.
"When the child finishes the exercise, which requires great concentration, though he has worked hard at it, he looks rested, tranquil, even better than he was before." -Dr. Maria Montessori
Please keep in mind that there are several different variables that could have played out in this scenario. He could have chose this work 15 minutes before lunch time and had to clean up early (time management), perhaps he didn't sleep well or ate something that disagreed with him and didn't complete the task, he could have gone to the restroom or had snack and prolonged the process, someone could have spilled water all over his work, the fire alarm may have gone off, etc. Regardless of this outer or inner stimuli, the Montessori Three Step Work Cycle provides the child with this important opportunity to organically exercise his executive functions. We scaffold by giving the child something he can succeed with that provides the right amount of challenge. Again, I will outline The Three Period Lesson and The Three Year Age Span to tie this all together in future blog posts!
The Gray Fox class has been so productive! The children are slowly returning to their school routines. We will continue to focus on our Grace and Courtesy Lessons throughout the year! They have been enjoying Walking on the Line (to different rhythms prompting them to walk, march, gallop, skip or run) and other individual as well as group movement exercises including balance beam and yoga. In addition we have been practicing mindfulness, breathing techniques, peacefulness, meditation and silence games.
The children have taken interest in learning the names of the bones in our skeletal system, rhyming, studying Monet and as always discussing small insects that wander in the classroom and outdoors. I have also started reading one-two chapters a day in the classic children's novel, Heidi by Johanna Spyri with those who aren't napping in the afternoon during our downtime. On Monday, we had the absolute honor of celebrating Lily's 4th birthday with her Mom and Dad! Thank you for the yummy hummus snack and for sharing your special day with us.
Miss Lauren and Ms. Yadira