The Montessori Work Cycle in Lower Elementary
The Montessori work cycle is an integral component of a Montessori education. The work cycle is an uninterrupted block of time that that fosters deep concentration in the child. It is during this cycle that children practice independence, learn time management, learn through socialization and have the time and space to deeply focus.
As Montessori teachers, a foremost concern is to honor the elementary child’s pull towards completing work. For this reason, we work hard to avoid interrupting a focused child. For instance, if a child is scheduled for a lesson, but is deeply engaged with a work, the teachers may make a note to give that child their lesson later in the cycle or the next day. Respect for the work of the child is paramount in a Montessori classroom.
In a Montessori classroom, children become engrossed in their work when they have the freedom to choose what interests them most at a given time. Their choices generally follow a pattern that is seen across many Montessori elementary classrooms. Typically, children will start their work cycle by choosing a work that might feel ‘easy’ to them. This is the part of the work period where children tend to be most social. They check in with each other, have lively conversations and work on creative and collaborative work with friends.
After they feel satisfied with this work, our students have the freedom to choose their next work - be it an assigned follow up work, a research project, math operations practice or handwork. Often, this second work is moderately challenging for them.
As children become engaged in work, teachers begin to approach students to invite them to lessons. If you were a fly on the wall in our Lower Elementary, you might hear a teacher say “Are you available for a lesson?” or “I have a lesson to show you!” 4-5 times throughout a work cycle.
Lessons in Lower Elementary typically include 2-3 students with one teacher. Depending on the lesson content and materials used, the lesson may have up to 5-6 children. While one of the teachers is engaged in lessons, the other floats around the room, offering assistance and guidance to the children who are independently working. Individual lessons and check-ins are peppered throughout the work cycle.
Once the children have completed 2 or more “works”, teachers will notice an uptick in children taking ‘brain breaks’ and observe an increase in social chatting. This is reflected in the increased noise level in the classroom. Typically, the volume returns back to a hum once children have reset and are ready to start their next work. Often, this work is the most challenging of the day.
Towards the end of the work cycle, the energy winds down and children finish up their last big work of the day. They may take out short works, begin to tidy their work spaces or read until the bell rings for lunch.