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Why is the 3-Hour Work Cycle Important?

by admin on March 14, 2014

True cognitive and personal development – the type that takes place in a Montessori classroom – cannot happen in 45-minute spurts.

In Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius, Angeline Stoll Lillard points out: “Montessori teachers who adhere to three-hour work periods without interruption claim one can see the difference in the quality of the children’s concentration on days when children know they will be leaving the classroom in an hour for a field trip or doctor’s appointment or special music class.”  Children who know they will soon be interrupted choose unchallenging “busywork” at best, and at worst become nuisances to their peers.  Even more tragic are children who don’t know an interruption is coming; they choose demanding work, become engrossed, and are understandably upset when the disruption takes place.

While interruptions are part and parcel of traditional education methods, they just aren’t necessary in Montessori.  The beauty of the Montessori “curriculum” (for lack of a better word) is that it encompasses EVERYTHING that children should be exposed to in school.  The usual “pull-out” subjects like art, music, physical education, drama, and yoga are all found within a well-prepared Montessori classroom.  It might not look like what you experienced in school, but then again, doesn’t everything in Montessori look different than traditional education?  It’s a good kind of different; it’s a different that makes sense – a different that works!

One teacher does not know or teach everything, but she does not need to.  The materials are carefully designed to capture the child’s interest and guide him in the learning process.  The child’s drive for knowledge and the material’s self-correcting qualities are the true teachers – the adult just brings the child and the material together as a kind of middleman of the learning process.

Some parents might worry: “Won’t my child get tired of working?  Doesn’t he need a break every 45 minutes or so?”  Dr. Montessori addresses this concern in The Advanced Montessori Method, Vol. I: “A great variety of interesting research has been made into the question of change of work with identical results – namely, that frequent change of work causes greater fatigue than continuous work of one kind, and that a sudden interruption is more fatiguing than persistence.”  Stoll Lillard adds, “If we choose when to take breaks, then breaks work for us, but if the timing is externally imposed, breaks can be disruptive to concentration.”

Dr. Montessori concludes: “The one means by which exhaustion can be eliminated is to make work pleasant and interesting, to give joy in work rather than pain.”

All Montessori educators are familiar with what we call the “three-hour work period.”  As the name suggests, this is a three-hour chunk of time in the morning in which the children receive presentations, choose materials, have snack, and work at their own pace on activities that interest them. (Note: All AMI-recognized schools also have a two-hour uninterrupted work period in the afternoon for children ages 4 and older).  A quality Montessori school will not have a single interruption during the work period: no Spanish teacher coming into the classroom; no music instructor pulling kids out; no physical education taking place on the basketball courts.

Dr. Montessori discovered that a child as young as three, who has spent a few months in the Montessori classroom, is able to choose productive and challenging work, focus on the task at hand, finish a cycle of work, rest without interrupting those who are working, and repeat this sequence.  She noted that for this to happen, a minimum of three hours of uninterrupted classroom time is essential.  Of her experiences observing children during an uninterrupted work period, she noted: “Each time a polarization of attention took place, the child began to be completely transformed, to become calmer, more intelligent, and more expansive.”




Imagine a school where students are encouraged to learn by getting their hands dirty, whether they’re raising piglets, harvesting wood or collecting soil samples. Imagine rigorous academics achieved through real-world experiences that encourage critical thinking, innovation and a love of learning.

This is the vision of Middleburg Montessori School, an AMI-accredited Montessori school that has been educating students in Loudoun and Fauquier counties for more than 30 years.

As part of that vision, the school will launch an innovative middle school program this fall that is rooted in the Montessori approach to adolescent education. The program will enable Middleburg Montessori to serve students through age 15, making it one of a handful of Montessori middle schools in the Washington, D.C., region.

“We are so excited to announce the opening of our middle school this fall,” said BethAnn Slater, Head of Middleburg Montessori School. “Its programs will link academic work to real applications and projects, requiring students to be critical thinkers, collaborators and good communicators. This is real-world learning at its most sophisticated.”

The program will integrate academics with meaningful work, allowing students to learn:

  • Biology by raising hogs and honeybees
  • Math and Economics by running businesses
  • Chemistry by monitoring a composting project and wastewater treatment
  • Forest Ecology by harvesting wood, producing woodworking projects and participating in the Friends of the Children’s Eternal Rainforest in Costa Rica
  • Art and Music by collaborating with local artists and musicians through art shows and fundraising performances to benefit local nonprofits
  • International Studies by participating in the Montessori Model U.N. program in New York City and possibly China’s Henan Province in November 2014

“Adolescents need to feel that they are contributing to this world. They are not children, and they are not yet adults. The Montessori middle school program provides for real, meaningful work that allows adolescents to see their connection to others worldwide and in their community,” Slater said. “It allows them to feel connected and effective. This is the power of Montessori.”

Middleburg Montessori School’s middle school program builds upon its successful toddler, preschool and elementary programs. The school is currently accepting applications for children ages 1-15 for the 2014-2015 school year. Those interested in applying should contact Janelle Stewart at 540-687-5210.

The school’s growth is part of a larger national trend in education, as more parents seek alternatives to traditional methods of schooling. Montessori education is self-paced and encourages analytical thinking, cooperation and innovation — skills that will be critical to children’s future success in our rapidly changing world. In fact, many of our society’s most innovative thinkers are former Montessori students, including CEO Jeff Bezos, Google founders Larry Page and Sergy Brin, and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales.

Middleburg Montessori School is accredited by Association Montessori International (AMI), which was founded by Dr. Maria Montessori in 1929 to maintain the integrity of her educational philosophy. For more information about the school, please visit


Why Choose Middleburg Montessori School?

by admin on March 12, 2014

Enrollment for the 2014-15 school year is already underway! If you’re considering enrolling your child at Middleburg Montessori School, we’d like to point out just a few of the many benefits of our school:

  • We are the only AMI-accredited Montessori school with Elementary and Middle School programs that serves Loudoun and Fauquier counties
  • We have served as the foundation for academic success and professional fulfillment for hundreds of students since our establishment in 1980
  • We cultivate an innovative and entrepreneurial spirit, which we believe are essential traits for success in our rapidly changing world
  • We offer real-world experiences that prepare students for real life
  • We provide a comprehensive curriculum, including practical life, mathematics, language, geography, Spanish, science and much more

A limited number of spaces are still available for the 2014-15 school year!

Join us for our spring open house on March 23 from 2-4 p.m. to learn more. Click here to RSVP and stay up-to-date with our open house news.

Can’t make it to the open house? Contact us today at 540-687-5210 or to schedule a free consultation to see how Middleburg Montessori School can help your child thrive.



Final Open House of the School Year

by admin on March 11, 2014

Please join us for an open house on March 23 from 2-4 p.m! This will be our last open house before the end of the school year, so if you’re interested in enrolling next year, you won’t want to miss it.

Our spring open house provides an opportunity to:

  • meet our outstanding AMI-certified faculty
  • tour the campus and see the architectural plans for our new building
  • learn more about how the proven excellence of a Montessori education can help your child become a lifelong learner during a special “Montessori 101″ informational session at 2:30 p.m.
  • allow your children to experience our high-quality Montessori materials
  • hear about all of our wonderful programs for children ages 1-15, including our new middle school program opening this fall, our summer  programs and Spanish afternoons

Can’t make it but want to learn more? Parental tours are also available weekday mornings.

We are now enrolling for the 2014-15 school year. A limited number of spaces are still available!

Contact us today at 540-687-5210 or to schedule a free consultation to see how Middleburg Montessori School can help your child thrive.

Click here to RSVP and stay up-to-date with our open house news.


One Hour Delay – February 18th, 2014

by admin on February 18, 2014

Due to weather conditions, Middleburg Montessori will be operating on a one-hour delay today.  Please drive safely and we will see you soon!


One Hour Delay – January 29, 2013

by admin on January 29, 2014

Middleburg Montessori School will be operating on a one hour delay today, Wednesday January 29th.  Please drive safely on your way!


Montessori is amazing!

by admin on January 23, 2014

Interesting Facts about Maria Montessori and Montessori Schools:

  • Maria Montessori was the first woman to receive a medical degree in Italy.
  • Helen Keller was a good friend of Maria Montessori and helped Maria develop many of her sensory materials.
  • Maria Montessori made her first trip to the United States in 1912.
  • In 1915, a Montessori class was set up at the San Francisco’s World’s Fair. Maria Montessori won two gold medals for education.
  • Maria Montessori left Italy during World War II. She moved to India where she and Gandhi often discussed the role of children and their education in promoting world peace.
  • Anne Frank was a student in a Montessori school before she and her family went into hiding.
  • Alexander Grahm Bell started a Montessori school for his grandchildren.
  • Eleanor Roosevelt started a Montessori school.


Montessori Student in Winter Olympics 2014

by admin on January 5, 2014

Dear Friends,

I have a Montessori Child character sketch

The Winter Olympics is always greatly enjoyed by Northern Minnesotans including myself but this year will be different for me. Nope, it’s not hockey, or
downhill skiing or figure skating. It’s speed skating that will have my attention. Why is that? A 1997 graduate of our Montessori School of Duluth, Mn, who attended from age three to age twelve, Anna Ringsred, is one of eight women on the U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Team. (Just Google her name and Olympic Speed Skating.)

Anna finished second in the 3,000 meter speed skating trial in Salt Lake City last week. She is smaller than a typical speed skater, 5-foot-4, but she makes up for it in will power. Anna has been skating since age 12 under a coach who recognized her determination to master the sport. After high school Anna forfeited a full scholarship to Carlton College in order to live in Calgary, Canada where she could train for hours daily on the Olympic track. Having exceptional academic as well as athletic drive she also took on line college courses.  Anna missed the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City by a mere two seconds. She also missed the 2010 games, by a few seconds, and then retired from skating to finish her degree in Chemical Engineering at the University of Calgary.  She went to work as an engineer for 18 months and then returned to competitive skating to try once again to reach the Olympics, this time in Sochi. A place on the team granted when she came in second last Friday in the 3,000 meter Olympic trial race. We certainly share her happiness. The Duluth newspaper quoted Anna: “It’s a dream come true. I’ve been waiting for this my whole life and now its finally here.”

As the teacher of Anna, and her three brothers, I keenly recall the self direction and determination that has led her to repeatedly strive for the Olympics!  Anna’s father planned on sending her to public school for kindergarten because he was on the Public School Board. Anna stamped her foot all summer, insisting she wanted to return to our Children’s House. Her mother sided with her and she returned. When she was eleven years old it was her mother who thought a larger school would give her bookworm daughter more opportunities for friendships. Again Anna fought the move because she hated being loaded with meaningless homework when she knew what she wanted to study. She agreed to try it a few months but happily returned to our school to finish our age 6 to 12 elementary program. Her world class skating career has lead to much international travel which she loves and friends of many nationalities who share her passion for racing.  And at only 29 years of age, I am sure much more is to come.

Anne Nephew


Hardwired for Success

by admin on January 2, 2014

by John Long, Head of School Post Oak Montessori, TX

“Brains are built over time,” says Jack Shonkoff, Director of Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child. “They also don’t come fully wired.”

1500 Montessori teachers gasped in unison while watching a videotape of two nerve cells growing together after repeated ‘firing”, forging a new strand and strengthening an existing pathway in the brain. Speaking to an Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) conference, Houston neuroscientist Bruce Perry, M.D., PhD. (director of The Child Trauma Academy) affirmed Dr. Montessori’s observation that children construct themselves from their experiences.

Construct themselves?

When I first read Montessori’s observation thirty years ago, I assumed she was speaking metaphorically, offering a precursor to the core principal of contemporary “constructivist education”: that through active engagement and hands-on learning a child “constructs” his own understanding of the world.

I agree with that observation, but there is more. It is not just knowledge that the learner constructs; each of us literally constructs our own brain during childhood. We actually, physically construct our organ of learning during the years of childhood and adolescence. The brain is molded by experience. Unlike a computer, the human brain is not fully wired when it comes out of the box; while the full complement of nerve cells is in place, the connections between them are “wired” during the first years of life—a process that isn’t fully completed until age 24.

“What science now tells us is that very early in life there are ‘sensitive periods,’ fixed windows of opportunity when certain parts of the brain are being wired for certain skills, such as associating sounds with objects or putting words together. Once that sensitive period passes, the circuit is formed and can’t be rewired.

“’As new circuits are being built, if they’re building on earlier circuits that were wired properly, they work really well,’ Shonkoff says. ‘If they’re building on earlier circuits that weren’t wired properly, it’s a harder job for the brain to adjust. There are greater energy demands on the brain. It’s a bigger cost to the brain to try to develop adaptive behavior and adaptive skills by overcoming and getting around faulty circuits.’”

Dr. Montessori intuited what modern neuroscientists have proven. The brain is quite malleable during the first years of life, enabling the young human to adapt to his culture and environment. Dr. Perry described how “patterned, repetitive practice” shapes the network of neurons in the brain. Neuron pathways that are used frequently, grow together and increase in size to handle more information. Neurons not used are “pruned”. We actually have a greater number of neurons in the brain during infancy than at any other time of life—but the network of connections between those neurons is not well developed. During this time of self-construction we pave the main highways and let grass grow over the seldom used footpaths. Perry emphasized that this process is active in the acquisition of physical skills, cognitive skills and social skills.

In other words, the same mechanism that takes us from tentative exploration to fluent competence in walking or catching a ball, also operates when we are learning basic cognitive skills like subtraction, or more complex problem-solving skills like building a robotic car for an engineering competition. We learn to put one foot in front of the other without thinking, and we learn to borrow from the next column when we need to. These are specific skills that call upon a particular set of neurons in the brain every time we need to perform those actions.

On a more global level, our experiences in school shape our attitudes: our attitude toward learning and our approach to life itself. Our experiences shape our brain toward being comfortable—or uncomfortable—with the ambiguities inherent to invention, creativity and exploration; attitudes that are literally hardwired into our brains by our experiences.

Patterned, repetitive practice hardwires our brains for social interaction, too. Social intelligence and emotional intelligence are largely learned behaviors and they are not learned through preaching and exhortation, but through doing. We learn to cooperate by working with others over and over. In the same way we learn to value the input of others, to celebrate diversity, to understand the emotional responses of others, and to understand our responsibility to the group. Actions that practice these skills over and over again hardwire our brains. These social and emotional skills then become as automatic as walking.

Education blogger David Warlick writes, “How many leaders are we losing when we teach children to be taught instead of teaching them to teach?” His question reiterates that school is not just about what we learn; more importantly the way in which we learn shapes who we become.

“Montessori kids are good at doing things.” Pediatric neuropsychologist Stephen Hughes was speaking to a friend who is a guide for the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) and who works with adolescents in the Boundary Waters Wilderness of northern Minnesota. Thinking about himself as an adolescent, and thinking about his friend leading groups of adolescents on wilderness expeditions, he ironically asked, “Who are the good kids?” She didn’t take it as a joke, but instead reflected for a moment and replied, “The Montessori kids. They’re good at doing things. When I ask adolescents from traditional middle schools to do something, I have to ask them again; then I have to remind them; then I have to nag them. When I ask the Montessori kids to do something, they do it. Joyfully. They do it well. Then they figure out a better way to do it, and then they embellish it. Montessori kids are good at doing things.” Dr. Hughes was so struck by that answer, he enrolled his young daughter in a Montessori school. And so did most of his colleagues in his department at the University of Minnesota.

Why are Montessori kids good at doing things? Why are they joyfully industrious? Why do they take ownership of a task, embellishing on the result? Why do they take responsibility and initiative? Why do they work together with such easy cooperation? Why do they have such a positive rapport with the adult leaders? Because this has been their experience in the Montessori classroom beginning at the age of 2 or 3—and it has been built into their brains.

The way we learn shapes who we become. Our brains are literally hardwired by our experiences, embedding not only information, but even more significantly, outlook, attitudes and behavior. Montessori kids are hardwired for a lifetime of success.


Link to the work of Andrew Meltzoff:

Read additional articles here.