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The Importance of the Three Year Cycle

Montessori Education
Montessori education is based on the child’s plane of development taking into account the child’s needs and attributes at each plane, these needs and attributes operate in three year cycles, and maximum educational progress is achieved when the educational system acknowledges this fact.

All of Dr. Montessori’s educational philosophy is based on years of scientific observation of the child. Through observation she concluded that the child is born with all the necessary features to become an individual, and passes through different planes of development in 3 year cycles.

Planes of Development.
First Plane: 0—6
This is a period of transformation, divided into two parts:
0—3 years: At this stage the child’s mind is like a sponge, we call it the absorbent mind. The child soaks in everything without being conscious of the fact.
3—6 years: At this stage the child’s mind is still absorbing everything, but he/she is aware of doing so.
Second Plane: 6—12 years
This is a period of uniform growth, an intermediate period, or the second stage of childhood. This is a period for acquisition of culture. During this period the child has a powerful imagination, and develops the ability to comprehend and work with abstract terms. We also observe some physical changes. This period can also be subdivided into two parts.
6 through 9 years: During this time the child is getting to know himself, he creates a code of ethics for himself. It is also a very curious stage. The child begins to question everything, and we see the development of justice and fair play.
9 through 12 years: This is a time to create a code of ethics in relationship with his group. The child creates a code of ethics with his peers. Hero worship is a significant part of this phase of development. The child has the ability to undertake “big” work, and enjoys longer periods of work. At this age the child’s inner sense of order begins to emerge, and appears to do so at the cost of external order! The child’s room and work space becomes untidy. As internal order is being created the child appears oblivious for the need to keep the space around him/her neat and tidy.
Third Plane: 12—18 years
This is a period of transformation, subdivided as in stage one into:
12—15 years Puberty
15—18 years Adolescence

An educational system that groups children taking the planes of development into consideration would have maximum benefit for the child. In a Montessori school the children are grouped in these three year cycles, where they have the additional benefit of remaining with the same teacher who can observe and assist the child through the entire cycle.

Any one who has changed jobs or made career changes or immigrated to a new country or location will tell you how stressful the move can be and the time it takes to get adjusted. When the child leaves home to go to an infant toddler program, pre-school and elementary school they go through similar challenges. Having the same class and the same teacher through the full three year cycle is invaluable in diffusing these challenges for the child. The early years lay the foundation for the child’s entire educational life, so we need to treat these years with great care to enable the child to have a strong foundation. Changing teachers every year in these early years adds unnecessary challenges for the child. Having the same room and the same teacher frees the child to concentrate on the learning process without having to waste precious time getting to know a new adult and a new environment. It is also beneficial for the teacher, giving her the time to get to know the child over a longer period. The more time the teacher has with the child, the more understanding is gained, giving her the ability to base the education on each individual child’s needs. This is one of the main benefits of the three year cycle in a Montessori classroom.

There is another very important benefit. The three year cycle benefits by having a mixed age group in the same room, the importance of which is often overlooked. The first year in a primary room the 3 year old learns a lot from just observing the others who have been there longer. Yes, they get lessons from the teacher, but they are learning all the time by just observing and listening in to the other lessons. The second year the child is in the room is a period of firming up and getting very secure. The third year gives the child the opportunity to be a leader and share what has been learned with the younger children. Walk into any Montessori primary room and you will see all the younger children being assisted by the leaders, who themselves are learning responsibility by helping the younger ones.

The same learning process is repeated in the lower and upper elementary program in a Montessori school. In the primary years the child is given the keys to his/her world, while learning functional independence, responsibility, and all the academic basics for the next phase of education. In the elementary years the child learns to become a member of society through cosmic education. Here the child is given the keys to his universe, and all the academic lessons to enable them to make a successful transition to the high school system. It is our experience that children who have completed all the three year cycles in a Montessori school become very well adjusted socially and emotionally. They enter their next school system with excellent academic knowledge and social skills necessary for a successful transition.

By Anisa Foy

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