Toileting

Toileting is a learning process in which a young child learns how to control their bowel and bladder and use the bathroom for elimination.

Toilet learning is a natural process and should be done at a pace the child is comfortable with. This process cannot be directed and controlled by the adult (aka as toilet training). We must not hinder the child and prolong the process. The adult is not the one who should decide when to start the process because of their own needs. Our duty is to observe the child and know when the right moment is for the child to start.

How do we know when to start? From the Montessori perspective the answer is easy: The toilet learning process starts at birth.

Toileting implies sphincter control and the myelination plays a determinant role in the process. But also, as Maria Montessori said: “the child absorbs and adapts to its culture”. Meaning that the sphincter control can be achieved much sooner than people think. It depends on our culture and whether the adults provide the necessary support. We can support our child by talking to him about his body parts and its functions when you we are changing his diaper or giving him a bath.

We can support him as well by choosing cloth diapers over disposable. Cloth diapers help babies to feel and understand the difference of being wet and dry. It is important to use 100% cotton underwear, since the child may be more sensitive to temperature and wetness.

The child is ready to use a toilet when his muscles and nerves (sphincters) are properly developed (usually around 12 months of age or when they start walking). Society, however, often promotes timing that is convenient for an adult versus the time at which children are truly capable. History tells us that the more we use disposable diapers, the later children become toilet trained. The New York Times reported, in 1957, almost 100% of the children wore cloth diapers and 95% of them were trained by the age of 18 months. Today almost 95% of the children wear disposable diapers and only about 10% are trained by the age of 18 months. Currently the average age for toilet training is about 30 months with the age ranging from 18 to 60 months.

Every child is different and has his own path of growing and developing. However, there are universal signs that might indicate readiness to begin a transition to his new developmental stage of wearing underwear. Whether you decided to use disposable diapers or cloth ones, here are some signs that help us know when and how to support your child in the toilet learning process.

When your child:

  • Can follow simple directions
  • Is able to sit
  • Is interested in wearing underwear
  • Has curiosity concerning the toilet
  • Is able to stay dry for 2-3 hours
  • Seeks privacy (hides) when urinating or having a bowel movement in the diaper
  • Verbally expresses that he is wet and wants to be changed
  • Is able to pull his own pants up and down

We want to make sure that our ‘toilet-ready child’ is dressed for success, which means wearing outfits that he can get in and out of easily. Hence we need to avoid buttons, belts, and other fasteners he might have trouble handling by himself. Even if he has the dressing skills to unbuckle and unzip and manipulate other clothing closures, he shouldn’t have to fuss with them at the same time he’s trying to get settled on the toilet. Avoid overalls, onesies or pants too tight for the same reason.

We need to give the child independence on the levels they can handle (size appropriate toilet, clothing, reminders…). The space where the child will learn to use the toilet has to be consciously prepared by the adult. Remember that the toilet should be located in the bathroom, not in the kitchen or the living room or the patio. We do not want to confuse the child about how, when, and where we use the potty.

The basic items needed in this process are a:

  • Toilet (child size or adapted)
  • Sink and Stool
  • Soap and hand towel
  • Basket for dirty clothes
  • Basket with clean clothes

The adult must collaborate with the child by both observing and modeling. We need to show the child where the potty is as well as how to sit and use it. As adults we must also be aware of the different diets that can help the child have more comfortable bowel movements.

Toileting is a learning process for children. It is important use positive language when we talk to the child about the learning process of using the toilet (no punishment or reward system). Some children train themselves in a few weeks while others need months. Some children show readiness as soon as 12 months while others start by the age of 3 or later. Regardless of the age we start, the process needs to be low-key but straightforward. As parents and educators, we need to commit to the whole process that involves lots of laundry, mopping floors, and wet carpets.

Maintain a positive attitude and your child will be toilet-trained in time 🙂

By Nuria Serrano

Toileting

Toileting is a learning process in which a young child learns how to control their bowel and bladder and use the bathroom for elimination.

Toilet learning is a natural process and should be done at a pace the child is comfortable with. This process cannot be directed and controlled by the adult (aka as toilet training). We must not hinder the child and prolong the process. The adult is not the one who should decide when to start the process because of their own needs. Our duty is to observe the child and know when the right moment is for the child to start.

How do we know when to start? From the Montessori perspective the answer is easy: The toilet learning process starts at birth.

Toileting implies sphincter control and the myelination plays a determinant role in the process. But also, as Maria Montessori said: “the child absorbs and adapts to its culture”. Meaning that the sphincter control can be achieved much sooner than people think. It depends on our culture and whether the adults provide the necessary support.
We can support our child by talking to him about his body parts and its functions when you we are changing his diaper or giving him a bath.

We can support him as well by choosing cloth diapers over disposable. Cloth diapers help babies to feel and understand the difference of being wet and dry. It is important to use 100% cotton underwear, since the child may be more sensitive to temperature and wetness.

The child is ready to use a toilet when his muscles and nerves (sphincters) are properly developed (usually around 12 months of age or when they start walking). Society, however, often promotes timing that is convenient for an adult versus the time at which children are truly capable. History tells us that the more we use disposable diapers, the later children become toilet trained. The New York Times reported, in 1957, almost 100% of the children wore cloth diapers and 95% of them were trained by the age of 18 months. Today almost 95% of the children wear disposable diapers and only about 10% are trained by the age of 18 months. Currently the average age for toilet training is about 30 months with the age ranging from 18 to 60 months.

Every child is different and has his own path of growing and developing. However, there are universal signs that might indicate readiness to begin a transition to his new developmental stage of wearing underwear. Whether you decided to use disposable diapers or cloth ones, here are some signs that help us know when and how to support your child in the toilet learning process.

When your child:

  • Can follow simple directions
  • Is able to sit
  • Is interested in wearing underwear
  • Has curiosity concerning the toilet
  • Is able to stay dry for 2-3 hours
  • Seeks privacy (hides) when urinating or having a bowel movement in the diaper
  • Verbally expresses that he is wet and wants to be changed
  • Is able to pull his own pants up and down

We want to make sure that our ‘toilet-ready child’ is dressed for success, which means wearing outfits that he can get in and out of easily. Hence we need to avoid buttons, belts, and other fasteners he might have trouble handling by himself. Even if he has the dressing skills to unbuckle and unzip and manipulate other clothing closures, he shouldn’t have to fuss with them at the same time he’s trying to get settled on the toilet. Avoid overalls, onesies or pants too tight for the same reason.

We need to give the child independence on the levels they can handle (size appropriate toilet, clothing, reminders…). The space where the child will learn to use the toilet has to be consciously prepared by the adult. Remember that the toilet should be located in the bathroom, not in the kitchen or the living room or the patio. We do not want to confuse the child about how, when, and where we use the potty.

The basic items needed in this process are a:

  • Toilet (child size or adapted)
  • Sink and Stool
  • Soap and hand towel
  • Basket for dirty clothes
  • Basket with clean clothes

The adult must collaborate with the child by both observing and modeling. We need to show the child where the potty is as well as how to sit and use it. As adults we must also be aware of the different diets that can help the child have more comfortable bowel movements.

Toileting is a learning process for children. It is important use positive language when we talk to the child about the learning process of using the toilet (no punishment or reward system). Some children train themselves in a few weeks while others need months. Some children show readiness as soon as 12 months while others start by the age of 3 or later. Regardless of the age we start, the process needs to be low-key but straightforward. As parents and educators, we need to commit to the whole process that involves lots of laundry, mopping floors, and wet carpets.

Maintain a positive attitude and your child will be toilet-trained in time 🙂

By Nuria Serrano

The Importance of Learning New Languages

“Once the child can speak, he can express himself and no longer depends on others to guess his needs. He finds himself in touch with human society, for people can only communicate by means of language. Very soon afterward at one year of age, the child begins to walk….So man develops by stages, and the freedom he enjoys comes from these steps towards independence taken in turn…Truly it is nature which affords the child the opportunity to grow; it is nature which bestows independence upon him and guides him to success in achieving his freedom.”
– The Absorbent Mind, p.78

One of the sensitive periods Maria Montessori focuses on is language. No matter how complicated a language can be, a child will learn it if it is spoken to them during this sensitive time. In our Spanish Immersion classroom, I only speak Spanish to the children. They begin to copy the sounds and words until they are fluent in the language. It becomes necessary for the children to learn the language spoken around them so they feel that they are part of their community. Children are eager and excited to learn and communicate the new language. A sign of their readiness is when they begin to ask the names of various objects in Spanish around the classroom. Soon after, they will begin teaching other children the names in Spanish. This demonstrates their desire to further assimilate themselves into the classroom.

Singing songs is a great introduction to the new language. By being expressive with hand motions and facial expressions, the children come to understand the song whether or not they fully understand the language. When a child first starts in the class, there are many songs and simple conversations to learn. Little by little I teach them the names of the objects around the classroom. This will help the child understand his environment and set himself up for success.

Through extensive research, it has been proven that the earlier a child is introduced to a second language, the greater the chance that the child will master both languages. Teaching your child a second language can provide them with more skills to succeed in the future.

By Katia Ledon

The Importance of Learning New Languages

“Once the child can speak, he can express himself and no longer depends on others to guess his needs. He finds himself in touch with human society, for people can only communicate by means of language. Very soon afterward at one year of age, the child begins to walk….So man develops by stages, and the freedom he enjoys comes from these steps towards independence taken in turn…Truly it is nature which affords the child the opportunity to grow; it is nature which bestows independence upon him and guides him to success in achieving his freedom.”- The Absorbent Mind, p.78

One of the sensitive periods Maria Montessori focuses on is language. No matter how complicated a language can be, a child will learn it if it is spoken to them during this sensitive time. In our Spanish Immersion classroom, I only speak Spanish to the children. They begin to copy the sounds and words until they are fluent in the language. It becomes necessary for the children to learn the language spoken around them so they feel that they are part of their community. Children are eager and excited to learn and communicate the new language. A sign of their readiness is when they begin to ask the names of various objects in Spanish around the classroom. Soon after, they will begin teaching other children the names in Spanish. This demonstrates their desire to further assimilate themselves into the classroom.

Singing songs is a great introduction to the new language. By being expressive with hand motions and facial expressions, the children come to understand the song whether or not they fully understand the language. When a child first starts in the class, there are many songs and simple conversations to learn. Little by little I teach them the names of the objects around the classroom. This will help the child understand his environment and set himself up for success.

Through extensive research, it has been proven that the earlier a child is introduced to a second language, the greater the chance that the child will master both languages. Teaching your child a second language can provide them with more skills to succeed in the future.

By Katia Ledon

Freedom with Limits

“The child is the spiritual builder of mankind, and obstacles to his free development are the stones in the wall by which the soul of man has become imprisoned.”
– Maria Montessori

Freedom by definition is the ability to do whatever you want, whenever you want. The difficulty lies in realizing exactly what it is that you want, and then knowing what action to take to achieve your desires. Freedom in a Montessori class gives the children the opportunity to choose materials by themselves; materials that are made in accordance with a child’s size requirements.

Freedom with limits is an important and necessary tool for future learning because it allows the children to build their sense of responsibility, self-discipline and independence.

The limits in a Montessori classroom are enforced in the prepared environment. These limits include respect for others, care of materials, walking slow, a soft tone of voice, carrying one thing at the time, not interrupting friends when they are working, helping others, cleaning up if water/food is spilled and much more. Freedom is always connected to limits since with freedom comes responsibility. In order to be responsible, one must be informed of what is expected of you as well as knowledge of how to complete the task. Our primary task as educators is to encourage and help children learn how to complete tasks on their own so that they can truly be free in their environment.

“We want to discipline to the activity. Not to passivity. We have to show the child what to do. An education method based upon freedom must help the child to conquer, and must guide the child in the path to independence.”
– Maria Montessori

Some ways to create a prepared environment at home include providing child sized tools for eating, cleaning and playing, as well as setting up a smaller table and chair for them to do their ‘work’. You can ask your child to complete specific tasks while still giving them freedom by giving them 2-3 choices. Children can be invited to help with simple household tasks such as to carrying a basket with their clothes to the laundry room, fold kitchen towels, and brainstorm tasks to be completed daily, ex. daily shower, bedtime … It is important to describe the tasks in great detail so the children have a clear understanding of what is expected of them.

An important limit we must always consider is the collective interest. We are often limited in our actions when we ponder the outcomes these actions can have on other people. In a prepared environment that provides the possibility to act free, the child will acquire the self-discipline and self-control to allow them to grow with responsibility of their own actions and decisions.

“Only through freedom and environmental experience is it practically possible for human development to occur.”
– Maria Montessori

By Katya Saab

Freedom with Limits

“The child is the spiritual builder of mankind, and obstacles to his free development are the stones in the wall by which the soul of man has become imprisoned.”- Maria Montessori

Freedom by definition is the ability to do whatever you want, whenever you want. The difficulty lies in realizing exactly what it is that you want, and then knowing what action to take to achieve your desires. Freedom in a Montessori class gives the children the opportunity to choose materials by themselves; materials that are made in accordance with a child’s size requirements.

Freedom with limits is an important and necessary tool for future learning because it allows the children to build their sense of responsibility, self-discipline and independence.

The limits in a Montessori classroom are enforced in the prepared environment. These limits include respect for others, care of materials, walking slow, a soft tone of voice, carrying one thing at the time, not interrupting friends when they are working, helping others, cleaning up if water/food is spilled and much more. Freedom is always connected to limits since with freedom comes responsibility. In order to be responsible, one must be informed of what is expected of you as well as knowledge of how to complete the task. Our primary task as educators is to encourage and help children learn how to complete tasks on their own so that they can truly be free in their environment.

“We want to discipline to the activity. Not to passivity. We have to show the child what to do. An education method based upon freedom must help the child to conquer, and must guide the child in the path to independence.”- Maria Montessori

Some ways to create a prepared environment at home include providing child sized tools for eating, cleaning and playing, as well as setting up a smaller table and chair for them to do their ‘work’. You can ask your child to complete specific tasks while still giving them freedom by giving them 2-3 choices. Children can be invited to help with simple household tasks such as to carrying a basket with their clothes to the laundry room, fold kitchen towels, and brainstorm tasks to be completed daily, ex. daily shower, bedtime … It is important to describe the tasks in great detail so the children have a clear understanding of what is expected of them.

An important limit we must always consider is the collective interest. We are often limited in our actions when we ponder the outcomes these actions can have on other people. In a prepared environment that provides the possibility to act free, the child will acquire the self-discipline and self-control to allow them to grow with responsibility of their own actions and decisions.

“Only through freedom and environmental experience is it practically possible for human development to occur.”- Maria Montessori

By Katya Saab

Montessori Materials Flow

Primary to Elementary, Concrete to Abstract

Inspired by Aristotle and John Locke, Dr. Montessori believed that nothing could exist in the intellect that did not first exist in the senses. One of the hallmarks of Montessori education is the elegant materials, designed to lead children from concrete to abstract representations of a variety of ideas.The Primary materials, which are self-correcting and introduce the child to basic concepts like numeration, phonetics, and geometric shapes, also facilitate the transition from Primary to Elementary, both in terms of curriculum flow and in helping the child situate herself in a new environment.

On the child’s first day of Elementary, she will walk into the classroom and see many of what Dr. Montessori referred to as “old friends.” Having used many of the materials already, the child experiences an immediate sense of familiarity with her new environment. She will encounter and use many of the materials she used in Primary, but at a higher level. The pink tower, for example, is in the sensorial area of the Primary classroom, but on the geometry shelf in the mathematics area in Elementary, where it will be used to study the concept of volume. In this way, the Primary child’s work with the pink tower is indirect preparation for her later work with operations on volume. All of the materials, in fact, that the child works with in Primary are direct or indirect preparation for her work during the Elementary years; the materials can be viewed as a bridge linking the different levels of the curriculum.

The geometry materials offer a useful illustration of how a child works with the same materials, yet on entirely different cognitive levels, in both Primary and Elementary. A sensorial material at the Primary level, the geometric plane and solid figures are explored in a variety of ways. Circles, squares, triangles, and other polygons are manipulated in order to feel the difference between straight and curved edges, obtuse and acute angles. In metal inset form, the polygons are carefully traced, promoting coordination and fine motor control as preparation for writing. The constructive triangles material encourages the child to form new shapes by placing two or more triangles together. Two triangles, depending on which kind, will make any number of different quadrilaterals; six equilateral triangles will form a hexagon. Concurrent with manipulation and other sensorial exploration, the Primary child learns the names of the polygons and solids.

Fast forward to the Elementary years, where the child will encounter the same materials, but on the geometry shelf in the math area. Although the child will continue to manipulate the planes and solids, he will begin to study them from a mathematical perspective as well, identifying and measuring, for example, types of angles, bases, altitudes, and diagonals. He will learn how to measure perimeter and area of polygons and volume and surface area of solids. The child is able to explore these properties on an abstract level thanks to his emerging power of reason—one of the “sensitivities,” or distinguishing characteristics of the Elementary-aged child (this transition congruent with the observations of Jean Piaget).

Dr. Montessori wrote much about the “sensitive periods,” or natural dispositions that children have toward certain activities during specific times in their development. While the Primary child can distinguish, sensorially, between a square and a rectangle, the Elementary child, in the sensitive period for reason and abstract thought, can conceptualize and articulate, for example, why all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares. And while the Primary child knows that two triangles placed together form a rectangle or other quadrilateral, the Elementary child, because he has learned to measure angles, can also extrapolate that since the sum of any triangle is 180 degrees, the sum of the angles of any quadrilateral, formed by two triangles, must be 360 degrees, or 180 X 2. It is a short leap from here to begin the formal study of geometry theorems, part of the upper elementary geometry curriculum.

The materials lead the child from sensorial exploration to abstract reasoning in a carefully designed and stepwise sequence that spans the Primary and Elementary years. And while the Primary child who moves on to a non-Montessori setting for the Elementary years will still have gained some knowledge from her sensorial work, the Montessori child who has worked with the full spectrum of the materials, from Primary through Elementary, will have gained not only more knowledge, but a more thorough understanding of complex ideas in mathematics, language, science, and more.

By Cindy Conesa

Montessori Materials Flow

Primary to Elementary, Concrete to Abstract

Inspired by Aristotle and John Locke, Dr. Montessori believed that nothing could exist in the intellect that did not first exist in the senses. One of the hallmarks of Montessori education is the elegant materials, designed to lead children from concrete to abstract representations of a variety of ideas.The Primary materials, which are self-correcting and introduce the child to basic concepts like numeration, phonetics, and geometric shapes, also facilitate the transition from Primary to Elementary, both in terms of curriculum flow and in helping the child situate herself in a new environment.

On the child’s first day of Elementary, she will walk into the classroom and see many of what Dr. Montessori referred to as “old friends.” Having used many of the materials already, the child experiences an immediate sense of familiarity with her new environment. She will encounter and use many of the materials she used in Primary, but at a higher level. The pink tower, for example, is in the sensorial area of the Primary classroom, but on the geometry shelf in the mathematics area in Elementary, where it will be used to study the concept of volume. In this way, the Primary child’s work with the pink tower is indirect preparation for her later work with operations on volume. All of the materials, in fact, that the child works with in Primary are direct or indirect preparation for her work during the Elementary years; the materials can be viewed as a bridge linking the different levels of the curriculum.

The geometry materials offer a useful illustration of how a child works with the same materials, yet on entirely different cognitive levels, in both Primary and Elementary. A sensorial material at the Primary level, the geometric plane and solid figures are explored in a variety of ways. Circles, squares, triangles, and other polygons are manipulated in order to feel the difference between straight and curved edges, obtuse and acute angles. In metal inset form, the polygons are carefully traced, promoting coordination and fine motor control as preparation for writing. The constructive triangles material encourages the child to form new shapes by placing two or more triangles together. Two triangles, depending on which kind, will make any number of different quadrilaterals; six equilateral triangles will form a hexagon. Concurrent with manipulation and other sensorial exploration, the Primary child learns the names of the polygons and solids.

Fast forward to the Elementary years, where the child will encounter the same materials, but on the geometry shelf in the math area. Although the child will continue to manipulate the planes and solids, he will begin to study them from a mathematical perspective as well, identifying and measuring, for example, types of angles, bases, altitudes, and diagonals. He will learn how to measure perimeter and area of polygons and volume and surface area of solids. The child is able to explore these properties on an abstract level thanks to his emerging power of reason—one of the “sensitivities,” or distinguishing characteristics of the Elementary-aged child (this transition congruent with the observations of Jean Piaget).

Dr. Montessori wrote much about the “sensitive periods,” or natural dispositions that children have toward certain activities during specific times in their development. While the Primary child can distinguish, sensorially, between a square and a rectangle, the Elementary child, in the sensitive period for reason and abstract thought, can conceptualize and articulate, for example, why all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares. And while the Primary child knows that two triangles placed together form a rectangle or other quadrilateral, the Elementary child, because he has learned to measure angles, can also extrapolate that since the sum of any triangle is 180 degrees, the sum of the angles of any quadrilateral, formed by two triangles, must be 360 degrees, or 180 X 2. It is a short leap from here to begin the formal study of geometry theorems, part of the upper elementary geometry curriculum.

The materials lead the child from sensorial exploration to abstract reasoning in a carefully designed and stepwise sequence that spans the Primary and Elementary years. And while the Primary child who moves on to a non-Montessori setting for the Elementary years will still have gained some knowledge from her sensorial work, the Montessori child who has worked with the full spectrum of the materials, from Primary through Elementary, will have gained not only more knowledge, but a more thorough understanding of complex ideas in mathematics, language, science, and more.

By Cindy Conesa

The Montessori Three-Year Cycle and the Importance of the Third Year

The three-year multi-age Montessori classroom is not an arbitrary configuration of convenience, but an implementation of the “planes of development,” or four distinct periods of growth: 0-6 years; 6-12 years; 12-18 years; and 18-24 years. Dr. Montessori, along with other developmental scientists, observed that the child’s development follows a path of successive stages, each with its own particular needs and dispositions—cognitive, social, physical, moral and emotional; and much occurs during each plane as preparation for the succeeding one. It follows then that the more fully the child realizes his potential in each plane, the stronger the foundation for the next stage of development.

Each plane is divided into two sub-planes, on which Montessori classrooms are based (0-3 years; 3-6 years; 6-9 years; 9-12 years; 12-15 years; and 15-18 years). Montessori teachers are trained to meet the child’s needs with a three-year developmental curriculum oriented to the inherent characteristics of a particular plane. The curriculum, like development, is sequential, and by completing the three-year cycle in an environment specifically designed to address her developmental needs—whether in Primary, Elementary, or Secondary—the child’s possibilities for working toward her potential are maximized.

Given “normal” development, most children will reach the milestones of a given developmental phase within the appropriate time frame, but as children do not all develop at the same rate, some will reach specific markers sooner or later than other children. This is one important reason why Dr. Montessori grouped children together in three-year spans: all are working toward the same developmental goals characteristic of their respective plane. The third year in a Montessori classroom can be thought of as the “capstone” in this respect; literally the “finishing stone of a structure,” it is also the “culminating academic experience for students.” This is truly where all the pieces come together, where the child’s learning is solidified, his knowledge consolidated, as new possibilities for growth and learning begin to emerge.

The third year in a Montessori classroom is also referred to as the leadership year. It can be helpful to think of first year children as the “explorers,” second year students as the “experimenters” and third year students as the “experts.” Having learned to take care of herself in the classroom and to work independently during the first two years, the child in her third year is developmentally ready to put her background to use as a classroom leader–an academic and social role model—while she continues building her own skills. This increases her self-confidence which, together with her good work habits, puts her in a position of readiness for her upcoming experience in the Elementary classroom.

Of course, all children go through the same developmental phases whether or not they are enrolled in a Montessori program. So what are the advantages, having completed two years of Montessori Primary, in completing the third year rather than moving on to another classroom setting? The answer lies in the “sensitive periods” characteristic of each developmental plane—the natural dispositions that children have toward certain activities during specific times in their development. Dr. Montessori designed her elegant materials to directly correspond to the sensitive periods. During the Primary years, for example, the child is sensitive to order, concentration, coordination, and independence; everything in the Primary environment addresses these sensitivities. As the older child is sensitive to reason and abstract thinking, the materials in the Elementary classroom become less and less concrete. Further, the Great Lessons are meant to appeal to the older child’s burgeoning imagination.

What sets Montessori education apart from many other approaches is that the child is able to independently seek out and find the particular stimuli to satisfy his needs, as dictated by the sensitive periods, and to develop mastery of related skills. In this way too, with guidance, he takes ownership of and responsibility for his learning—an opportunity not found in traditional school settings.The third year—the year of consolidation, leadership, and readiness for the next phase—is of paramount importance to the child’s optimal realization of possibilities and development and, as such, should be regarded as a crucial step in the Montessori educational process.

By Cindy Conesa

The Montessori Three-Year Cycle and the Importance of the Third Year

The three-year multi-age Montessori classroom is not an arbitrary configuration of convenience, but an implementation of the “planes of development,” or four distinct periods of growth: 0-6 years; 6-12 years; 12-18 years; and 18-24 years. Dr. Montessori, along with other developmental scientists, observed that the child’s development follows a path of successive stages, each with its own particular needs and dispositions—cognitive, social, physical, moral and emotional; and much occurs during each plane as preparation for the succeeding one. It follows then that the more fully the child realizes his potential in each plane, the stronger the foundation for the next stage of development.    

Each plane is divided into two sub-planes, on which Montessori classrooms are based (0-3 years; 3-6 years; 6-9 years; 9-12 years; 12-15 years; and 15-18 years). Montessori teachers are trained to meet the child’s needs with a three-year developmental curriculum oriented to the inherent characteristics of a particular plane. The curriculum, like development, is sequential, and by completing the three-year cycle in an environment specifically designed to address her developmental needs—whether in Primary, Elementary, or Secondary—the child’s possibilities for working toward her potential are maximized.

Given “normal” development, most children will reach the milestones of a given developmental phase within the appropriate time frame, but as children do not all develop at the same rate, some will reach specific markers sooner or later than other children. This is one important reason why Dr. Montessori grouped children together in three-year spans: all are working toward the same developmental goals characteristic of their respective plane. The third year in a Montessori classroom can be thought of as the “capstone” in this respect; literally the “finishing stone of a structure,” it is also the “culminating academic experience for students.” This is truly where all the pieces come together, where the child’s learning is solidified, his knowledge consolidated, as new possibilities for growth and learning begin to emerge.

The third year in a Montessori classroom is also referred to as the leadership year. It can be helpful to think of first year children as the “explorers,” second year students as the “experimenters” and third year students as the “experts.” Having learned to take care of herself in the classroom and to work independently during the first two years, the child in her third year is developmentally ready to put her background to use as a classroom leader–an academic and social role model—while she continues building her own skills. This increases her self-confidence which, together with her good work habits, puts her in a position of readiness for her upcoming experience in the Elementary classroom.

Of course, all children go through the same developmental phases whether or not they are enrolled in a Montessori program. So what are the advantages, having completed two years of Montessori Primary, in completing the third year rather than moving on to another classroom setting? The answer lies in the “sensitive periods” characteristic of each developmental plane—the natural dispositions that children have toward certain activities during specific times in their development. Dr. Montessori designed her elegant materials to directly correspond to the sensitive periods. During the Primary years, for example, the child is sensitive to order, concentration, coordination, and independence; everything in the Primary environment addresses these sensitivities. As the older child is sensitive to reason and abstract thinking, the materials in the Elementary classroom become less and less concrete. Further, the Great Lessons are meant to appeal to the older child’s burgeoning imagination.

What sets Montessori education apart from many other approaches is that the child is able to independently seek out and find the particular stimuli to satisfy his needs, as dictated by the sensitive periods, and to develop mastery of related skills. In this way too, with guidance, he takes ownership of and responsibility for his learning—an opportunity not found in traditional school settings.The third year—the year of consolidation, leadership, and readiness for the next phase—is of paramount importance to the child’s optimal realization of possibilities and development and, as such, should be regarded as a crucial step in the Montessori educational process.

By Cindy Conesa