The Three Hour Work Cycle


This month’s Montessori focus is on the “Three Hour Work Cycle”. As a scientist, Maria Montessori spent a lot of time observing children and collecting data. One of her earliest observations was that, left uninterrupted, children would move through a regular and predictable pattern of work.

That pattern looks something like this:


In the first half hour or so, children are settling. At the children’s house, they may wander about and touch materials on the shelf or hold back and observe other children. Others may rush about, investigating the boundaries set the day before. The older children will want to check in with friends – see what they are wearing, what they are thinking about working on, etc. they, too, will survey the environment, look for changes or new additions, rushing to let others know if their experiment has finished over night or if spelling tests have been returned.

In the next half-hour you will see children choosing easy or familiar work. Simple lessons may be repeated again and again in this time period. Following this time of keeping busy, children will often experience what Montessori called “false fatigue”, or a period of time when children look tired, bored, or restless. They wander the room, unable to make a choice with nothing sounding interesting or worth doing. This might seem like a natural time to shuffle on out to recess, but instead, Montessorian’s wait. It may be loud and seem like adult intervention is needed, but this restlessness is preparation for what comes next.

Once children make it to the other side of false fatigue, they enter into a new level of engagement. They are ready for harder, more rigorous challenges. They are more inclined to pick activities that require a long attention span or more focus. This is when teachers will present a new challenge or protect their concentration while they settle in for hard work.

When a child is limited to a shorter work cycle on a regular basis, they will tend to avoid longer lessons and not fall into periods of deep concentration. You may recall from my previous email that concentration necessary for the process of “normalization” to take place. The significance of the three hour work cycle is why we stress on time arrivals, the avoidance of appointments in the middle fo the work morning.


After talking with the guides about the three hour work cycle, we were all quick to see how we, too, work on a similar cycle. Have you experienced the feeling of a three hour work cycle in your mornings? How does it feel when you get interrupted? How do you deal with "false fatigue"?


Lastly, I love this video of a three hour work cycle condensed down into a few minute video: https://youtu.be/09Y-huCMjIc

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