The Importance of the Complete Montessori Cycle of Education

The Importance of the Complete Montessori Cycle of Education
Anisa Foy

Dr. Maria Montessori’s philosophy is that children go through different planes of development and there are cycles of growth and learning stages that are different at each level. For this reason Montessori education is based on three year cycles based on the plane of development the child is in. An education that suits the child’s needs at each stage will produce best results. The child is not expected to learn according to the adult time table, rather the teaching style follows the needs of the child at each stage of development.

Learning starts at birth and continues throughout one’s entire lifetime. Dr. Montessori divided the planes of a child’s development as follows:

0 to age 3: the Infant/Toddler years.
Ages 3 to 6: the first plane of development; the Primary classroom.
Ages 6 to 8: the second plane of development; the Lower Elementary classroom.
Age 9 to 11+: the third plane of development; the Upper Elementary classroom.

I would like to discuss the three year cycle of the primary classroom.
This classroom, also referred to as The Casa or The Children’s House, has a mixed group of children between the ages of 3 to 6. In some cases children aged 2 and a half are also accepted, based on their level of readiness. There is 12 students for every 1 teacher in this classroom.

There are certain attributes unique to the child in the first plane of development, and all teaching centers around these unique qualities:
• A need to learn and explore individually
• Brief periods of time when the child is strongly attracted to certain areas of learning. Dr. Montessori termed these “sensitive periods”. There are sensitive periods of acquiring language and culture at this age.
• A strong need for movement, exploration and manipulation of all objects in the environment.
• A need to become a part of the group the child is born into.

The primary curriculum is based on, and built entirely around, the strong needs the child has at this stage of development. The child starts learning from day one and it all happens spontaneously because all the lessons are catered to what the child is impelled to do anyway. In the primary classroom, we give the child the keys to his/her world. Lessons are presented on an individual basis, according to the need of the child. Every piece of material in the room has a purpose and teaches a concept. The classroom itself is a specially prepared environment filled with Montessori materials that provide motive for learning. One of the most important aspects of a Montessori teaching philosophy is observation and record keeping. The teacher observes the child while keeping meticulous records, and gives individual lessons when the child is ready. There are no group lessons as each child is viewed as an individual, with individual needs. Every lesson is taught with concrete materials that a child can manipulate and experience. No abstract ideas are presented before the child has had an experience of the idea with the concrete material. The child is permitted to manipulate the concrete material as long as needed and the child has the freedom to choose and work with the materials until the concept has been fully absorbed.
Any concept presented has a process:
• Concrete presentation of the concept in an individual lesson presented by the teacher.
• The child is encouraged to repeat the lesson and experience the concept with the materials
• Observation tells the teacher when the child has grasped the concept
• The child is given the abstract idea for the concept and attaches a name to it
• Example, teaching numbers.
• Materials that allow the child to experience numbers through manipulation
• Child works with these many times
• Introduction to the symbol for the numbers when the child is ready
• Association of the concrete number with the symbol and the name for it.
• Various tests to allow the child to repeat and firm up the concept.

All lessons follow the same process. Lessons presented in this manner, given when the child is ready, and the freedom for repetition, is what makes Montessori education so unique. Lessons learned this way are not a chore. This is another unique quality of Montessori education, we instill in the child a love of learning for the sake of learning.

Having children of different ages in the same room develops leadership and responsibility. The younger children learn from looking at the older children. The older children are encouraged to show their work to the new comers and become leaders in the process.
What typically happens in a Montessori three year cycle in the same room:
• The youngest new arrivals get all the initial lessons in the first year, and learn a lot by watching the older children. Their vocabulary grows fast as they absorb all the learning going on around them. They become comfortable, becoming independent and articulate through all the basic lessons. The rules become apparent to them through observation of the other children. They soon realize the freedom of movement in the room comes with the responsibility of respecting the freedom of others in the room. They learn patience, having to wait for the materials that are limited in number. This is how discipline grows slowly. Discipline is not enforced, it grows naturally.
• The second year is the time when the child has become very comfortable, and is firming up all concepts learned. They are busy testing themselves in all areas, and stretching the learning process. As they repeat what they have learned they build concentration.
• The third year is a very special year. We sometimes refer to this year as the “kindergarten year” as the child is now getting ready for first grade. These children are now the leaders of the room. If you walk into a primary room it is easy to identify the third year children, as these are the ones working most independently with the greatest concentration. They are also the ones refining their leadership qualities by helping the other children. They are like little assistants to the teacher, and it is a joy to watch them. I am always very sad to sometimes see a third year child that is transferred to another school, because it is felt they have learned enough! The chance of being the leader is denied to this child who has waited for two years to practice the leadership skills that have been learned and absorbed. The Montessori classroom is a very strong community of individual children who have bonded in their time together. If a child is removed in the third year, he/she loses a very special opportunity.

The primary class room gives the child the keys to the world and makes him/her a member of the society. The elementary years give the child the keys to the universe. Montessori elementary education is Cosmic Education. It shows the child where they fit into the universe. The three year cycle with mixed age group is repeated in both the lower and upper elementary rooms. It is extremely important for the child to complete the full cycle. The Montessori approach to education is still the same hands on approach, with exploration, and self-learning is the main key. Leadership, responsibility and character building are emphasized. The elementary child is different than the primary child, and the education takes this into account. The children now have different needs and attributes:

• The child now seems to have a herding instinct, and therefore all lessons are given in small groups
• They develop a strong sense of justice and fair play
• They become very idealistic
• They need answers to everything
• They seem to lose their sense of order and appear very messy, and this is because they have created an inner order and see no need for external order.
• They have great imagination and are able to do very big work.
• They need strong role models, they need heroes to look up to.
• This is a period of quick physical growth, where they appear to feel awkward as their arms and legs suddenly seem to grow.

Montessori elementary education takes advantage of all these attributes for the learning process. Understanding the psychology of the child at this level gives the teacher a lead on how to best optimize the learning process. There is a strong sense of community in both the lower and upper elementary rooms as the child is being prepared to take his/her place in the world of tomorrow. They practice becoming leaders through the leadership roles they assume in the room. All exploration and learning is done in groups where the children are taught to take responsibility for their own group and help each other. It is a process where learning is not forced but happens spontaneously. As in the primary years the mixed age learning helps the children to learn from each other and the full fruition can be seen in the final sixth year, when the children play great leadership roles in all the school functions and performances. Children who complete the full Montessori cycle of primary and elementary education emerge as well adjusted individuals, socially academically and most importantly as natural leaders.

Arborland Montessori Children’s Academy is entering its 30th year of serving the community in the year 2018. During these years we have seen many confident children complete the full cycle of education with us, and transition effortlessly to local Junior Highs and High Schools. We have had a near perfect record of our students who have gone on to, and graduated from, prestigious universities in the nation. Many of our graduates are now doctors, and captains of industry and are also attending military schools. We are humbled and happy to welcome them back when they visit California.

A note about myself
As a teacher, consultant, friend and mentor of Arborland, I have given an overview of education that I believe in and have practiced for over 25 years. I have seen the results and been a part of the growth and expansion of our school, which celebrates its 30 year anniversary next year. I have had experience with the child at each plane of development and hold AMI teaching credentials for Primary and both levels of Elementary from The Montessori Education of The Pacific Northwest in Portland, Oregon. I am in touch with many of our alumni and have seen their excellent progress. It is very gratifying to see and hear from our past students. There is a common thread that repeats itself in every one of the alumni I keep in touch with. They are all very successful in their chosen fields, all display confidence and positive leadership, and they are all open to learn and continue their growth. They are a vibrant group of young adults, and when they return at times to visit, they display deep affection and an affinity with the school that started them on their educational journey through life. They all remember the sense of warmth, security and love they received here. Dr. Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” This quote always springs to mind when I welcome returning alumni. Now fully grown young adults, all our alumni still remember and all still show the great curiosity and love of learning that Arborland instilled.