Montessori Through the Years: The Importance of the Three Year Cycle

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There are a few core components to a Montessori classroom, such as a prepared environment, teachers as guides, freedom of exploration, and a multi-age environment.  The multi-age environment is a hallmark of the Montessori classroom, and is inextricably linked to the importance of the Three Year Cycle.  The three year cycle or the “three year commitment” as many schools call it, is the concept that children should stay in the Montessori primary program for three complete years. These three years provide the opportunity for a child to start as a follower/learner of materials, move into practice in their second year, and complete the cycle in their third year as a leader and teacher to the other children.  This three year cycle is crucial to the health of the Montessori classroom environment as well as each individual child’s academic and social development. 

The Montessori classroom thrives off multi-age groupings, with a community of support and empowerment being built from the various interactions that take place.  As Dr Maria Montessori once said, “there are many things which no teacher can convey to a child of three, but a child of five can do it with the utmost ease.  Our schools show that children of different ages help one another. The younger one sees what the older ones are doing and ask for explanations”.  These multi-age groupings provide the social and academic environments for ultimate success! 

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Academically, the three year cycle is irreplaceable. It is the culminating year where all that the children have learned and practiced the previous years comes together.  Children in their third year have the opportunity to bring information from all areas and piece it together, and then teach it to the younger children. Teaching the materials and information to other children essentially “synthesizes” their learning, helping to ingrain what they’ve learned as they show it to others. By their third year, children can look around their classroom at the lessons on the shelves, and know they know how to do it. They see on the shelf the water pouring lessons that they once spilled, or the S sandpaper letter that was once so hard to write.  With persistence and perseverance, they have come to be experts…so much so that THEY are now the teachers to the younger children! Our third year students have learned that mistakes are okay, and that they don’t set you back so far that you can’t eventually overcome these mistakes to master new skills. They can see learning as a process, and that their intelligence is not fixed but progressive and dynamic.  These lessons are invaluable to their future curiosity and learning.

While the academic benefits are surely there in the third year of a Montessori classroom, perhaps even more important are the “non-cognitive” or soft skills your child is developing as part of the classroom community. Children are rounding out their third year, the year they take on full leadership, and the skills they acquire in this position are important for their entrance into the world beyond MMCH! Research suggests “mixed ages groups are consistently found to improve children’s social behavior” with reduced competition, aggression, and social isolation (National Association for Montessori in the Public Sector, 2017).  Children from multi-age environments are more comfortable asking others for help, and offering help in return.  Throughout their three years, they gain a sense of confidence, leadership, and understanding.  

We truly believe that all children who spend time in a Montessori will reap the benefits in some way.  Maybe the child will absorb some of the internal order of the classroom, or maybe they'll learn how to peacefully solve a conflict.  But it is the child and the family that invests in the full 3 year period of development from age 3 to 6 that will see the benefits that last a lifetime.

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