The Montessori Uninterrupted Work Period
The American Montessori Society School Accreditation Commission and the AMS Teacher Education Action Commission offer this resource to AMS schools and affiliated teacher education programs to clarify AMS’s definition of optimal uninterrupted work period in Montessori classrooms. AMS-accredited schools are required to meet the following definitions of uninterrupted work time for each applicable program level (as articulated in Criterion 3.9 of the AMS School Accreditation Standards and Criteria), and these definitions are recommended as best practice for AMS member schools. This explanation is comprehensive but not exclusive of what may be observed in AMS-accredited schools during the work cycle.
The uninterrupted work period is fundamental to the Montessori approach, which recognizes and respects individual variations in the learning process. Within the Montessori environment, the children need to have time to work through various tasks and responsibilities at their own pace. This uninterrupted work period is vitally important, as that is when the building of coordination, concentration, independence and order, and the assimilation of information are able to occur.
At all levels, students with special needs may need unique considerations, such as:
- variation in work time block
- more one-on-one teacher time and direction
- being removed from the class for therapeutic services
While the work will look different for each age group, at all program levels children should have ample time allotted for the uninterrupted work period. The following is intended to be a guide to what an observer would see during the uninterrupted work cycle:
Infant & Toddler
At the Infant level, a 2- to 3-hour uninterrupted work cycle is not developmentally appropriate. Each child typically has his/her own schedule, which should be posted for parents and teachers. There might be a period of time during which some meals are "scheduled" such as breakfast between 8:00 and 9:00 for older infants who can sit at a table and eat solid foods, but, in general, the guiding principle is “follow the child,” based on each child's schedule and observed needs. Infants should be free to move throughout the day, and should not be placed in any kind of apparatus that restricts movement, or in any place/position they cannot get out of on their own (The exception to this is the very young, non-mobile infant, who may spend time lying on his/her back and/or his/her stomach throughout the day. The teacher would place the child in this position and would move him/her based on cues they receive from the infant). Overall, you should observe children freely moving and exploring the environment, with adults observing and assisting individual children only as needed.
During an infant’s day, you should not see a heavy emphasis on group activities and multiple group transitions. At the Infant level, you should observe children freely moving and exploring the environment, with adults observing, and assisting individual children only as needed. During an Infant work cycle, you should see a heavy emphasis on individual activities and transitions.
At the Toddler level, a 2- to 3-hour uninterrupted work cycle is not developmentally appropriate; a typical morning work cycle can vary from 1 to 1½ hours. Toddlers tend to explore materials and may work at the shelf or take a work to a table or floor rug. Teachers are observing or quietly moving through the room, assisting or redirecting as needed. Teachers may also be modeling/encouraging toddlers to “restore their work” as they go and facilitating problem solving between students.
Observations made during the morning cycle should include children freely moving, choosing work, exploring materials in all areas of the room, moving inside and outside, helping to prepare or getting snack, and using the toilet/having diaper changed. Toddlers are not required to receive lessons on materials. Rather, they tend to explore materials much more on their own and may work at the shelf or take a work to a table or use a rug.
At this age, the source of interruption to the work cycle is adult-driven rather than schedule-driven. Interruptions occur when a teacher chooses to model a material for a child who is having difficulty, engages a child who is reluctant, or redirects a child towards another material if it is being used inappropriately.
Snack practices and routines can vary, ranging from a scheduled group snack to snack available for children to choose from throughout the morning (similar to Early Childhood) to children helping to prepare and/or serving themselves their own snack, which is best practice. There is typically a large group time, lasting about 15 minutes, sometime in the morning, during which the teacher might read a book, sing some songs, or do a few finger plays; participation is optional and based on toddler choice, rather than required.
Practical life/care-of-self activities such as serving snack, eating snack, and washing dishes after snack, as well as using the toilet (learning how to push down pants, how to sit on toilet, how to wash hands when done, etc.) are an important part of the day. If outdoor play time is scheduled, it should be at the beginning of the work cycle or at the end.
At the Early Childhood level, a 3-hour uninterrupted work cycle, 5 days per week, is optimal, and a 2- to 3-hour work cycle, 4 days per week, is the required minimum for AMS-accredited schools. Schools provide large blocks of unscheduled time to ensure that individual children have the time to settle into a task that interests them and are not unnecessarily interrupted when they are engaged in a worthwhile activity.
During the work period, teachers observe the behaviors of the children and invite individuals and small groups to short lessons when they see opportunities to assist a child’s progress. Optimally, the majority of each morning and afternoon is devoted to self-motivated work. This time may include individual- or self-chosen small group activities and short lessons by the teacher for children who have accepted an invitation to the lesson.
The uninterrupted work period does not include whole-class lessons or other activities such as adult-led group circle meetings for which participation of all children is required. Outdoor play time, specials, and enrichment classes for the whole group should not interrupt and are not included in the work period.
At the Elementary level, a 3-hour uninterrupted work cycle, 5 days per week, is optimal, and a 2- to 3-hour work cycle, 4 days per week, is the required minimum for AMS-accredited schools. During the uninterrupted work cycle, one should see students engaged in developmentally appropriate work. The work should include Montessori hands-on materials that are appropriate for the individual needs of each student. The teacher will be working with students individually and in small groups, in hands-on engaging Montessori lessons. Students will be collaborating as they work on a task or research project together. Students are also managing work expectations. A contract, work plan, or work journal may be used to help with organization and time management skills.
At the Elementary level, full-class lessons should not take place during the uninterrupted work cycle. Rather, they should be presented before or after the uninterrupted work cycle. Outdoor play time, specials, and enrichment classes for the whole group should not interrupt and are not included in the work period. Circle time should also be held before or after the uninterrupted work cycle.
At the Secondary level, the length of the work cycle varies by setting. Small programs with a single Secondary-credentialed guide will look different than large programs, particularly at the Secondary II level when course requirements and credits needed for diplomas are considered. The critical aspect is encouraging flexibility within extended blocks of time. You may see the following lessons presented: mini-lessons, impressionistic lessons, procedural lessons, small-group lessons using flexible grouping based on needs, and individual lessons. Student work periods vary in length each day. It is important that this large block of time is not divided into daily, one-hour class periods. Students are taught to use a checklist and to plan their worktime to be able to meet deadlines. This includes independent work, small-group work, self-checking work with controls or other methods, and project work by individuals or groups. The teacher/guide is working with/among students. Many teachers have a space in their classrooms for students to request lessons on topics they identify.
Brief, student-focused large-group activities (including mini-lessons, group initiatives/community building, solo/reflection time, seminar/discourse, etc.) may occur during the work cycle. These activities include the active engagement of the teachers. Whole-group activities are scheduled at natural transition times (e.g., beginning of the block, before or after lunchtime, at the end of the block/day) so that the work cycle can be preserved.
At the Secondary level, during the work cycle, there should be no lectures or presentations that last longer than 20 minutes. Individuals should not be removed from the class for services or programs. There should not be a lot of unnecessary socializing, group meals or snacks, or schoolwide assemblies during this time.