The three-year cycle is an essential aspect of Montessori education. It is to be frank, how we roll... how we do education. The 3 year cycle is how children are afforded the opportunity to engage in the work that they are passionate about at their own pace. The 3-year cycle is built in the principles of the Montessori method: Exposure, Experience, and Expression. These principles guide our lessons and presentations as well as the rhythm of each child's learning experience.
The First 3 Year Cycle (ages 6-9)
During the first year of Elementary much of the children's day to day is exposure to new concepts, and social understanding. The children are working to place themselves within the context of the Universe and their peer group. During this phase of learning the children are learning formally by Guide presentations but they are also learning by observation of the work of their peers. This observation is a powerful aspect of each child's educational experience. The observers may feel inspired, gain confidence in themselves when they recognize their own understanding, or be happily in awe of what they may become or be able to do one day.
When the child is drawn to a particular material or conceptual understanding, it is then that personal experience begins to happen. This is when the internal drive to master a mathematics skill, or a profound interest in an ancient culture inspires further investigation. At this stage the child is engaged actively in the pursuit of knowledge and confirming for themself the truths that they have been exposed to. At this point in a child's educational experience, she may not be able to yet express her understanding of a culture or why she knows that 49 divided by 7 is 7....That is okay.... she is gaining the experience to work out the abstract understanding for herself.. This is something that is much more valuable than knowing the answer by rote or by getting the correct answer "because Mercy told me this is how you do it."
The third year for the lower elementary child is a year of confident pursuit of passion. The many skills that have been worked on over the previous two years are solidifying in a way that supports the uninhibited exploration of every interest and curiosity that each child holds. The foundation has been laid and there is no where to build but up and out and every direction they want to go in... there is no limit! They are in a culmination of expanding their knowledge, and know that it can be based on their own experience.
The Second 3 Year Cycle (ages 9-12)
The upper elementary 3-year cycle is about the process of integrating of the knowledge and experience that the expansiveness of the first three years have provided. The 4th year child often goes through a crisis of conscious in which they are unsure of what they know, and so they yet again go through the cycle of exposure, experience and expression. They observe and participate in presentations that they have already had with a new lens of understanding and begin to confirm what they already know. This boost in confidence prepares them for new material and for developing their abstract understanding of concepts that they have worked with at a concrete level for several years.
During this stage of development the child begins to internalize and integrate the concepts and knowledge from the previous 3 years. She begins to confidently know what she has explored and confirmed to be true through her own experience. The child begins to recognize that she is prepared for the world in many ways, and is able to apply this foundation of truths to new concepts and situations.
For example, the child of the first 3 year cycle explores grammar in order to recognize the rules of language in a conscious way. The child of the second three year cycle explores grammar within various genres of writing in search of exceptions to the rules. She is now able to creatively play with the rules of language because she has integrated them within herself and has the confidence to bend them to her creative will.
The sixth year in the elementary is a year when children work towards self-mastery. They begin to consciously recognize their strengths and weaknesses, and develop skills to work with both aspects of themselves. They have also developed a more complex understanding of morality and the social dynamics and guidelines of culture. The culmination of the second three year cycle places the child at point in which she is ready to begin the task of finding her place among the larger community and the way in which she will contribute to it.