What Is the Montessori 3-Year Cycle?

Many parents, upon researching the Montessori method, come across their first snag at the three-year cycle. Questions arise like, What is it? and Is three years in one classroom really necessary?

For many parents that last question hits home in kindergarten. It’s the year many children enrolled in Montessori preschools may switch to a non-Montessori public or private school setting.

Rest assured that the third year in the Montessori 3-year cycle is worth staying for as it plays an essential role in a student’s cognitive, social, and emotional development.

The Planes of Development & 3-year cycle

The reasoning behind why the kindergarten year (or any final year in the Montessori 3 year-cycle) is so important starts with the four planes of development.

The First Plane: Infancy (Ages 0–6)

This is a stage of physical independence where students ask “What?” as they absorb information and adapt to the world around them.

The Second Plane: Childhood (Ages 6–12)

Children focus on “Why?” and “How?” as they gain a sense of self and mental independence.

The Third Plane: Adolescence (Ages 12–18)

This is a time to ask “Who am I?” as students gain social independence.

The Fourth Plane: Maturity (Ages 18–24)

Now as young adults, students determine their place in the world as they gain a sense of moral independence.

During each plane, students first work through an intense developmental phase of introduction and rapid growth followed by a consolidation phase in which those skills are strengthened before moving onto the next plane.

In essence, each plane can be split into two, three-year subplanes which are the basis for the Montessori 3-year cycle.

The Montessori Three-Year Cycle

The Montessori three-year cycle affords children the opportunity to reach developmental goals in the same classroom of mixed-age groups, but at their own pace. While each student is unique in their own development, part of what drives that growth is due to the mix of ages.

The age groups for Montessori three-year cycles are:

  • 0–3 years
  • 3–6 years
  • 6–9 years
  • 9–12 years
  • 12–15 years
  • 15–18 years

Because many parents wonder about the efficacy of the kindergarten year, let’s analyze the three- to six-year cycle in which kindergarten is the final year. 

Year One: Explorers

In their first year of the Montessori 3-year cycle, three-year-olds become explorers. They are exposed to new content and skills and are encouraged to explore their classroom environment independently.

Year Two: Experimenters

In year two, four-year-old students begin experimenting with the same skills they learned in their first year, but on a deeper and age-appropriate level. They also begin to incorporate group work over independent exploration.

Year Three: Experts

The final year is also considered a capstone or leadership year. These are five-year-olds who have the experience of two years in the same classroom. At this point, they should be confident in themselves and their skills. They are now classroom experts who can use their knowledge to help younger students.

The Importance of the Kindergarten Year

The third year in a three-year cycle corresponds with kindergarten, third, sixth, ninth, and twelfth grades.

However, it’s important to highlight the kindergarten year because it’s a time when many parents show interest in pulling their children after two years in a Montessori preschool and enrolling them in a public or private non-Montessori school setting.

But the third year is important because:

It’s Developmentally Appropriate

The activities created by Maria Montessori accurately reflect the emotional, social, and cognitive needs of students in a given plane. Skipping the third year, or enrolling a student in a non-Montessori setting, risks placing them in an environment where the skills and lessons don’t follow with best practices for their developmental needs.

It Helps Solidify Skills

The third-year gives kindergarteners a chance to continue developing the skills they have been learning. This allows them to work on higher-order thinking skills, move from concrete to abstract processes, and become a “teacher” to younger students.

Teaching a skill might seem simple from the outset, but it shows a student has a firm understanding and mastery of a given concept. The third-year is when students truly consolidate their learning and move onto the next plane with a solid foundation from the previous one.

It Builds Confidence

Finally, when students are allowed to complete their third year, continue in a known setting, and gain leadership experience, it builds their confidence and self-esteem.

They can leave the three-year cycle with a sense of accomplishment and purpose going forward to the next cycle.

Is the Third Year of a Three-Year Cycle Important?

Yes. Incredibly so.

It allows students an extra year working with developmentally appropriate content and gives them the opportunity to solidify their learning, become leaders in the classroom, and build confidence—all skills that are well worth the wait.

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