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Importance of the Three-Year Cycle of Development

Beginning at Age Three

Although Creative Montessori School accepts children of all ages, we give first preference to families who plan to enroll their children at age three, and attend for the full three-year developmental program.  Montessori philosophy stresses the importance of a three-year cycle, believing that the full potential of the child is reached after three years in the same environment with the same teacher. Montessori schools use multi-age groupings (three-to-six year olds, six-to-nine year olds, etc.) and teachers are trained to meet the specific cognitive, social, and emotional needs of the children in their age group. Teachers design a three-year developmental curriculum, including learning areas in practical life, sensorial refinement, math, language, science, geography and art. Children are free to explore the environment at their own pace; teachers observe, assess, and present new lessons on an individual, small group, or large group basis.

First year students, the “explorers,” are typically three year olds, whose developmental needs are to explore their environment and learn to do things for themselves.  The Montessori classroom becomes their world to explore, as they refine their senses, internalize order, learn to sort and classify, and practice concentration—the skills which lay the groundwork for their ability to think and learn.  Montessori classrooms encourage the three year old’s need for independence:  they learn the skills and are given the tools to take care of themselves within the environment. They move freely as they follow their own interests and progress at their own pace. They learn to take responsibility for themselves and for their work, which in turn develops the good work habits which will enable their future academic success.

Second year students, typically four year olds, are the “experimenters.” They’ve had their year of independent exploration and concentration, and are now turning their focus outward, becoming more interested in their classmates and the social world of school. They are developmentally driven to practice social interactions and explore group dynamics. They continue to practice their independent work habits, but also begin more teacher-directed activities, and may do much of their work in small groups, rather than independently.

Third year students, “the experts,” are typically five year olds. These children have a strong background in all areas of the classroom, and are able to work entirely independently. They are developmentally ready to become leaders and peer teachers, both with academics and with social skills.  They continue to refine their good work habits, as they accept responsibility for their own learning. These children are self-confident, creative-thinking problem-solvers, who are well-equipped to move on to a new environment for their elementary years.

Children who complete the three year cycle (exploration, experimentation, and expertise) will gain the most benefit from the Montessori program, but even children attending for two years will still benefit greatly. The most important year, however, is the first—exploration—since that is the basis for developing the good work habits necessary for self-directed study, which is the cornerstone of Montessori education.