The Montessori Work Cycle
Thoughts & Reflections
“What did you work on?” is such a common question. We send photos home to share a child’s work, perhaps spur some conversation about a recent accomplishment or new favorite material, or oh that’s your friend Kevin! Looks like you’re having a great time!
We focus so much on the work, we can sometimes gloss over the idea behind the work cycle in the Montessori classroom. I pick my work, I work with the material, and I tidy it and return it to its place.
I pick my work. From the hundreds available on the shelves, what do I want to do? A material is a work choice if it’s something I’ve received a lesson on. If these are my earliest days in the classroom, this might be materials that lead to bigger work, such as pouring that leads to washing tables, or bead stringing that develops strong muscles for handwriting. If I’ve been here for several years, there might only be a few materials I’ve not yet been introduced to, but I know that if I choose that bead stringing or another work I mastered long ago, it would not be available for a child for whom that work is still a challenge. I’m balancing my needs and desires with those of other, of the group.
I work with the material. This is the part we tend to focus on. When I select a material, I’m making an agreement with it to use it as it is intended. I cannot play with or hide behind work; i have the right to explore with a work but not the right to misuse work. I also have the right not to work, as observation is a learning experience, boredom is a catalyst for active learning, and a habit of pretending to work or playing with the materials leads to a negative experience of work and learning.
I tidy it and return it to its place. In so many ways, this is just as important as the selecting and working. It’s the completion of the thought, the period on the end of the sentence. Children seek order, and this final step is Order.
Let’s say we’re of a mind to bake a cake. We want to make a cake for a friend (we’ve selected our work) and we do the whole baking, maybe even frosting (we worked with the material). Then we walk away and leave the kitchen a mess. We have not yet completed the work.
“I pick my work. I work with the material. I tidy it and return it to its place.”
Many of us can identify with the results of not tidying. While at school everything has a place and our classmates ensure we return our work to where it belongs, at home it might be less of a place and more of a suggestion, or perhaps we’re just less diligent about the tidying up at home. We take something out and get distracted by a toy our sibling is playing with and then let’s go downstairs cause dinner’s ready and a week later someone steps on a Lego even though no one can remember playing with Legos.
It’s easy to do the doing. The building, the baking, the mess, the creation, the lacing. But we’re not done until the un-doing has happened. The cleaning, the tidying, the putting away.
Here’s a video of a child finishing his work. He’s laced all the way through to the last bit of string, but he’s not done yet. He’ll take out the string so it’s ready for someone else to use. That’s when you know you’re ready for what comes next.
Written by:Charlotte Wood