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                                               ON WORK CYCLES

A month or so of school days has gone by - and we know this not only because we have flipped the page on our calendar but also because we see the work cycle SLOWLY evolving - along with the flow of the day. The settling in to a day’s flow is not unique to Montessori - you would find this in any place a child is regularly at - whether it is at home, daycare or at a more traditional school. The work cycle is a whole different thing though that IS unique to schools following Maria Montessori’s philosophy. What does it mean? Well, I think it means different things at different ages. 

For the 1st year student (who is 2 ½ to 3 years old typically): It takes a while for the child to realize that the adults really mean it when they say the child has a choice. “What do you mean?” is the typical question. “What do you want me to do now?” is another. When they realize it means they can walk around and look at what the shelves offer, see what piques their interest and then pick it off the shelf if they have already had a lesson, or ask an adult for a lesson if it is unfamiliar - they seem almost liberated. Of course we have the child who only looks and looks and looks, or walks and walks and walks…then we just have to wait and observe where they linger a nano second longer and casually offer that lesson the next day. No wonder these children start thinking the adults in a Montessori classroom can read minds! For the youngest children in the room, the concept of a work cycle is just that - a concept!! Slowly, and it may even take months, the child realizes that a cycle involves repetition. “Hmmm,” they say to themselves, “so when I do one work and return it to the shelf, I can take another one and do that…what an interesting idea!”

For the second year student: It takes a couple of weeks into school for the memory to return, maybe a little longer if there have been huge changes to the environment. They remember that the work cycle could involve a BIG work, a break for snack, a group work because it is SO important for the 4-year old to work with their friends, and then maybe another big work before lunch. Some have begun reading time and you will see them looking at the clock on occasion, to check if it’s “almost lunch time”. A fascinating thing about the second year student is their ability to quickly slip into a mode of “temporary amnesia”. “Testing,  testing!” you can almost hear them say as they widen their eyes just a little more and give you the most disarming smile. “It’s our morning work cycle? What do you mean by work cycle? I have not heard that before. What does that mean, Ms. Deepa?”  

For the third year student: It takes only the first week at the most, for them to slip right back into a work cycle. They feel secure in its predictability. They move from social to individual works, from learning a new work to teaching a familiar one, from dispensing advice to the younger children( “You NEVVVVER, EVVVVER, EVVVVER clean up broken glass - ONLY the ADDDULTS do that.”) to arbitrating at disputes (“If he had the metal inset tray first then he gets to use it first and you get to take it AFFFFFTER he has returned it. If you grab it from him, you are telling him you are not a peacekeeper.”). Sometimes you hear the third year say when they hear the signal that the morning work cycle has ended, “WHAT…already?” and sometimes you do hear them say, “Why is it taking so loooong for lunch?” But with the third years it is just a note for the adults about the kind of work they are doing more than anything else.

The evolution of a work cycle is, indeed a remarkable thing. If you think about it, it is simultaneously the evolution of self-awareness, sustained focus, impulse control, strategic planning and the value of perseverance. Made all the more remarkable because the child is developing this at their pace, and based on their interest! It is also something that we have to be conscious of as teachers in a Montessori classroom. It is not difficult to feel frustrated or at a loss when you see a first or second year student skipping, trotting, running, wandering and not SEEMING to develop an interest or motivation to work. It is just as difficult for a parent of a young child who seems to flit from thing to thing and not anchor interest in any one area or activity…it is hard work but we have to trust that this is part of the BIG PLAN the child has for themselves. We are only given glimpses of this until they trust us enough to let us in on what that plan is. And if we are patient and trusting enough, we will probably be blown away by its magnificence!

(I freely admit that I am saying this more as a reminder and reassurance to myself after a particularly stir crazy few days!!!)

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