The Three Year Cycle

Multi-aged grouping based on developmental ability is one of the fundamental characteristics of Montessori education. In the Montessori model, children are grouped together in three- or six-year spans beginning at birth and continuing through high school: ages 0-3, 3-6, 6-9, 9-12. 


The materials and exercises of the first two years in each group not only help the child achieve a direct immediate purpose (such as learning beginning sounds of a word) but also serve an indirect aim of building the base or foundation for future activities and learning.  The three year cycle allows the child to build on the experiences of the previous years, adding layers of complexity and abstractness.  This gives the child an increased understanding of concepts and they become deeply internalized.  Parents are amazed when a child who was working on beginning sounds and learning the phonetic sounds of the alphabet, “magically” explodes into reading and writing during the final year.  The concrete math materials, such as the golden beads, are no longer as necessary as the child moves to more abstract pencil and paper math exercises.  It might look like magic, but it is really the culmination of the first two years in the 3-6 classrooms.


In addition to the academic, there is also a social component. During these three years, children experience different roles, responsibilities and expectations.  The younger children learn quickly and enthusiastically from their older peers.  They look up to the older children as role models and learn how to behave and what is acceptable.  They also observe the more advanced work of the older children, something the child will be aspiring to do one day.  In turn, the older children have the unique opportunity to be mentors and community leaders.  Their understanding of concepts and skills is strengthened by practicing and sharing with the younger ones.  These opportunities to lead help build confidence and self-esteem. 


So it is unfortunate that some parents will enroll the child in our Montessori school at age 3 but will pull their child after 2 years in order to enroll him in the Kindergarten of their future elementary school.  A Montessori education, even if cut short, is beneficial to the child, but that child is robbed of that precious last year.  The child laid the foundation for something that was never completed.  Additionally, when the child leaves the program early, it affects the overall integrity of the class.  There is a negative effect on the dynamic of the classrooms if there are only a few 5- and 6 – year old children who remain. 


For these reason, we ask families to consider their plans for kindergarten prior to enrolling their child in a Primary classroom.  Although we do not require parents to sign a contract, we do expect families to choose Montessori Foundations of Chicago because they believe in the Montessori philosophy, understand the advantages of staying through the Kindergarten year, and are willing to commit to a partnership with us to provide their child the best possible beginning to a successful school career.  Placement decisions not only of the enrolling child but also the siblings of that child are influenced by a family's commitment to completion of the full Primary cycle. 



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