The Three-Year Cycle
One unique and beautiful aspect of the Montessori Method is that of the three-year cycle. The break down of this multi-aged classroom is as follows: Primary, consisting of 3, 4 and 5 year old’s; Lower Elementary, consisting of 6-9 year old’s; and Upper Elementary, consisting of 9-12 year old’s. Wait! How can you have different grade levels in the same classroom? How does it really work? Its two-fold, really. First, the third level children, or our oldest friends, become the leaders and role models in the classroom, helping their younger peers to navigate the environment or a new material. At the same time the younger friends look to see what lessons and work the older children are selecting from the shelf. This motivates and excites the younger children and leads to a great anticipation of what will come. Second, the teachers, or Guides, are constantly observing, presenting lessons or refreshers, and observing some more. Guides are specifically trained at one of the above stated groupings. Each Guide understands particular plane of development and is therefore able to expertly follow the individual child. So the Montessori classroom will never be one big group where all children are working on the same developmental skills. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Each child is working at their own pace and at their own level, across all subject areas. And because of this, the grades and ages found in the traditional classroom needn’t matter to us. This community of multi-aged learners is what ignites the magic of the Montessori Method.
“There is a great sense of community within the Montessori classroom, where there are children of different ages working together in an atmosphere of cooperation, rather than competitiveness. There is respect for the environment and for the individuals within it, which comes through experience of freedom within the community.” -Maria Montessori