Imagine that you have just entered a special event.
Everyone is already there and has begun to eat their meals, having already had time to hang their coats, get a drink, find their table and get to know the people next to you and across from you before the special guest speaks.
You have arrived late and haven’t had time to do any of the above. It’s almost an arresting feeling to walk in the door and realize how late you are. I mean, it didn’t seem like things were running that far behind, right?
Translating the above scenario, which most adults have experienced at one time or another, to the experience of at 2 ½-6 ½ year old child is not that far from what the child experiences when he arrives to school after the day has already begun.
More often than not the children who are repeatedly tardy haven’t the slightest idea that they are, in fact, very late to school until they reach the doorway and see that the class is already in session. They see their friends busy at work, no longer in the transitional space in the doorway for putting away coats and lunchboxes and greeting one another. There is always a moment where the late child stands almost paralyzed in the doorway, and it dawns on them that they are late. I still greet those children just as I would the child who is on time, and sometimes I might ask how the morning went at home.
I’m reminded of one very strong-willed child who was always late to school by at least an hour and sometimes two. Every day, she would come into the classroom with a scowl on her face and have the toughest time finding a material to work with to begin her day.
For almost a whole school year, I tried to figure out why she was so late, talking about the importance of being on time with her parents, reminding them that we wanted to offer all of the children a peaceful, uninterrupted three-hour-work cycle, to no avail. Finally, she told me that she just didn’t feel like getting up in the morning.
Mentioning this new development to her parents changed things a bit. They started to put her to bed earlier and wake her up earlier so they could arrive at school on time. And interestingly enough, she started to change as well. The scowl left her face and was replaced with eagerness and joy to be at school and even arrive before some of her other friends. Others had the same response once they began to arrive on time. Tantrums ceased.
It is so vital to set up a consistent routine at home so that one is able to get from place to place on time. Children at this age are looking to us to know how we should be as human beings. If we set up the precedence that it is acceptable to walk in late to school, church, plays, baseball practice, ballet rehearsal or a violin lesson, the children begin to develop a habit of arriving after events are under way and never really understand the impression that it has on others.
On the other hand, if we can offer to the children a predictable routine and schedule so that they know when things are happening, it often takes the stress and chaos out of leaving on time. They can depend on the same series of events to happen before they must be in the car on the way to school, practices, etc.
And if getting dressed is the culprit, send them to school in their pajamas with a change of clothes. I guarantee you they won’t spend more than five minutes in their pajamas at school once they see everyone else is dressed!
The five-day school week
Another challenge that Montessorians face, especially when working with the younger children, is helping parents, and sometimes administrators alike, to grasp the importance of a five-day school week.
I so often hear, “Well, they are only three,” or “They are going to spend SO many years in school, why spend time in a five-day week now?” It’s very hard to know the best way to respond. I understand how hard it can be sometimes for parents to spend time away from their children. Or parents sometimes look at school as a way to have a little break and time to take care of other responsibilities as well as offering their child a place to spend a few hours engaged in a safe place.
However, a key reason behind the five-day school week in Primary, in particular, is that it aids the social cohesion of the classroom environment.
What is social cohesion?
It’s the building of the group, the dynamics and the pulse of the classroom. It’s the balance between oldest and youngest; first-, second- and third-year children; and even the balance between personalities, cultures and societal norms. The children are subconsciously absorbing all that is around them, including those who are not at school on a regular basis. The children always ask where another child is whenever the child is absent from school.
That is to say, children of this age, as mentioned above, thrive on consistency and routine. So, attending school for five consecutive days is invaluable to the child. When they attend regularly, the environment becomes more predictable, and the daily routine gives satisfaction rather than the distress or tension of becoming oriented again after a gap. Dr. Maria Montessori says, “it is through these daily experiences that a social order comes to being … the only social life that children get in ordinary schools is during playtime or on excursions. Ours live always in an active community.”
The children that attend school five days a week also have a much easier time continuing along the progression of materials at their own pace. There is more time for receiving new lessons and less time in between receiving those lessons, so there is more time for practicing and mastering them. These children are getting the full benefit of one of the cornerstones of an authentic Montessori experience — the three-hour work cycle.
Montessori observed that a MINIMUM of three hours leads to the deepest concentration, which is followed by calm, peaceful, cooperative and kind characteristics. Concentration is considered “healing” as it brings us to feel more confident, energized, and refreshed. We want to be able to offer consistent open-ended time so that children have the freedom to independently choose what to do. If we do this, we observe children who become so engaged that they start to “fall in love” with work.
But a child who is not in school on time five days a week is not able to reap the full benefits of the work cycle.
On time and in school
So, what might happen if you arrived at the party early with ample time to settle in, put your coat away and greet your friends? You have enough time to get a drink and find your seat before the meal even begins. How do you feel? Are you more settled? Are you feeling more at peace or even excited about the upcoming events for the evening?
The children are the same. They begin their day with more joy and peace when they have enough time to adjust and transition into the environment when arriving on time. Also, when they are attending for the full five-day week, the children feel they are even more of an active participant in the daily life of the community. The children even aid each other in finding their work for the day and gearing up for new lessons on exciting materials.
Mario Montessori, Jr, in his book Education for Human Development, reminds us that, “Adults are the representatives of the outer world and the most important source of guidance for the child. … Man is not born with pre-established behavior patterns but with the ability to form them during youth. He does this through his personal experiences in his interaction with the environment. These experiences are internalized, and thus structure his inner world.”
Our role is even more vital for the child, for we demonstrate the very behavior that we are hoping to see. We help the child to experience how courteous it is to be on time, participating fully in the classroom activities and how both impact the surrounding environment.
Claire Paglia is starting her fifth year as a primary Montessori guide and her third at Cross of Life Christian Montessori School in Roswell, Georgia. She’s also worked closely with Joen Bettmann, director of training, at the International Montessori Training Institute in Atlanta as a course assistant. She lives with her husband and 11-month-old son, outside of Atlanta.
Montessori, M. (1967). The absorbent mind. (p. 225). New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC.
Montessori, M., Jr. (1976). Education for human development: Understanding montessori. (p. 57). Oxford, England: Clio Press.