Every Day Matters
Thoughts & Reflections
Montessori is unique among many early childhood settings in the emphasis on consistency. Montessori schools often offer, if not require, five days a week, even for very young children. Some schools offer part time, whether that be in the form of part of each day, or a selection of days throughout the week but, in fact, AMI, the Montessori organization Dr. Montessori herself founded that is responsible for training teachers and accrediting schools, requires “…five days per week with substantial uninterrupted work periods every day.”
Why? Why would a philosophy so founded on education of the whole child, in love of learning, make such a rigorous and rather arbitrary requirement? Even many workplaces offer alternate schedules or remote work options, so this isn’t even in conjunction with following the family dynamic in our culture.
And yet, we still find it adds value, even for the youngest students. Why?
In a word, routine.
Children learn by doing. Not just by doing once, but by doing again and again and again. And then by doing some more. Pull to standing, fall. Pull to standing, fall. Pull to standing, pause, sit down. Pull to standing, fall. Pull to standing, balance, sit… even when a skill is well ingrained, we must test it, the same as we test a rule or a boundary. A mastered puzzle isn’t boring, neither is climbing the steps to the slide, or practicing writing your name. Do I still have this skill?
Coming to school each day gives space for repetition. Buttoning might be introduced on Monday, practiced on Tuesday, mastered on Wednesday, and forgotten on Thursday. It’s okay, Friday, then another Monday, are just around the corner.
If we don’t repeat, we can’t establish a routine. When we can’t establish a routine, it’s hard to gain confidence, experience, and mastery.
Every time you come to school, you practice taking off and hanging up your coat, saying goodbye to your parent or caretaker, greeting your teacher, friends, and classroom, selecting work, working purposefully, returning the material, navigating social dynamics, problem-solving, feats of independence… any number of skills!
When you don’t come to school each day, these skills can still be learned, but it’s a bit like walking around with a pebble in your shoe — not painful per se, but rather, a bit uncomfortable. You’re coming back, right? Which one is my cubby? How do I know when it’s my turn to have snack? Do I need to ask to use the toilet, or can I just go? I need a tissue, but I forgot where they are. Nothing catastrophic, just challenging, and not in the good way. We’re focusing on just remembering how to co-exist, rather than establishing a strong relationship and working on interpersonal, developmental, and academic growth.
Finally, timeliness. We call the uninterrupted hours during the day when the children are free to choose their own work, the “Work Cycle,” and it is just this — cyclical. In fact, the cycle is two-fold.
First, not to be obtuse, but the children cycle through work. They select their work, they work purposefully, they return it to the shelf ready for the next person to use, and repeat.
Second, there are cycles during this work period — inspiration and selection, challenging work, restorative rest. Just like we pause during our work day to stretch, to scroll through Facebook or the news, to get a drink or to stare out a window, children pause to converse with a friend, to find an observation chair, to use a simple, long-mastered material, to wander for a minute or ten. There are also absolutely times during the day when hours pass in a blink, concentration is unbreakable and deep, and new skills and concepts are mastered and ingrained. Once slice of the cycle is not representative of the whole Work Cycle; those pauses are well-earned and restorative, necessary for the deep learning and concentration.
We all have different cycles of work. Some of us are most productive first thing, some of us ease into our work, some of us are dedicated to one sustained task, some of us dive into many tasks for shorter periods of time. Children are just the same. When a child is late to school, their work cycle is negatively affected. The children who do one task have less time and energy to spend on that task, the children who choose multiple materials can’t get to as many. Children who do better first thing might have missed their opportunity, children who ease into their day might only be settling in when the work cycle is coming to a close.
Montessori is not just about the academics, the social and developmental aspects are just as important. Children learn through repetition, not just repeating an action, but also by repeatedly observing. A child learns how to come into a classroom, greet others, put away their belongings, and begin their work by watching others engage in this task. If I’m always the last one, how do I know how others acclimate to this classroom setting? How do children select work? How do I know if it’s my turn to have snack or use the toilet? Ah, yes, that’s where the tissues are!
It’s amazing how the dominoes fall through the day — getting to hang your own coat and enter class with your friends after having waved goodbye and shared a hug sets a much different tone than rushing, scooting in, realizing later you forgot to say goodbye.
All this is not to say there is no space for Life to happen. Things do happen! Children or caregivers are sick and need to miss school. Things got off to a rocky start and we’re late. We all have days or moments like that, and it’s important to treat ourselves with the same grace we extend to others.
All this is to say, the routine benefits from being, well, routine! The Work Cycle can have the greatest benefit when a child gets to take full advantage of the time. We can be sick or take a vacation because when we’re here, we’re here. When we do what we can, when we can, we have more space for those challenging, unexpected moments, children and adults alike.
Written by:Charlotte Snyder