The Three Period Lesson

Without doubt, one of Dr. Montessori’s most important innovations was the inclusion of a technique called the Three Period Lesson. Adopted from the work of Eduoard Seguin, a French doctor and educator, the three period lesson is used by Montessori teachers on a daily basis and is an indispensable way to teach new language and the concepts intrinsic to that language.  Used properly, the three period lesson gives children information in an orderly and straightforward way which allows them to glean small amounts of knowledge over a long period of time.  This allows children time to reflect on the new knowledge and apply it to concepts they’ve already mastered.  As they gain more and more bits of knowledge, they begin to draw conclusions about the world around them based on a solid, fact-based stockpile of information.

So how does it work?  Well, as the name implies, there are three parts to the lesson.  The first period is the naming lesson in which the child is told the names of objects (one by one, in isolation).  The second period is the recognition stage in which the child is asked to remember a specific object. Finally, the third period is when the child recalls the name of a specific object.

That’s a very brief description of the three period lesson.  I haven’t gone into a long explanation about how to present the lesson because there are lots of examples all over the internet. (Here’s a very good description if you want to learn more.)   However, the best way to see a three period lesson is to ask your child’s teacher to give you a demonstration.  

The importance of the Three period lesson can’t be underestimated.  It is a tool that can be used anywhere.  In the classroom we use it to introduce letter sounds, number values and symbols, continent names, plants and animals, but it is not limited just to the classroom.  It can also be used in the playground, in the kitchen, at music lessons, and at the super market.  It can even be used to introduce object names in a second language.  There is no limit to how this lesson can be used because, under the right circumstances, there is no limit to the amount of information a child between the ages of 3 and 6 is capable of absorbing.  

What are the qualities of the 3-6 Prepared Environment?

Dr. Maria Montessori’s concept of the classroom environment is one in which children can work toward independence without interference from an adult.  It is a carefully prepared environment, designed to facilitate maximum independent exploration, concentration and learning, and employing a variety of activities combined with extensive movement.


Within the physical environment, child-size furniture enables independent use – it must be light enough for a child to move without adult help.  Individual tables allow for independent work and an adequate supply of such tables allows each child to do his or her own work.  Low shelves put the learning materials within easy reach and facilities such as bathrooms, cloakrooms and sinks encourage self-care.


In addition, all the objects in the room are reality-based:  they reflect comparable real-life tasks and challenges.  Consequently, they help to build confidence and familiarity with the world outside the classroom.

The educational materials (there are no ‘toys’) in the Montessori classroom are attractive, appealing to the child without undue coaxing from the teacher. The purposeful design of the materials promotes ever-increasing levels of competence and independence and each piece has a built in control of error.

Which brings us to the role of the teacher. Dr. Montessori believed a person can not reach full learning potential if simply force-fed information for later regurgitation. Instead, the prepared environment is the essential base in which the teacher is an integral component. But in this situation the teacher is more a part of the environment than in a regular classroom because she or he devotes a substantial amount of time maintaining that properly prepared environment. The teacher must provide individual presentations of work that meet the child’s needs; must lead by example with respect and socially acceptable behaviour in order to foster similar classroom behaviour, all the while promoting a healthy attitude toward mistakes to affirm a value of self-correction and self-teaching. In the prepared environment, it is essential that the teacher be a role model.

Dr. Montessori believed that self-motivation was essential to a good education and through her careful observations realized that children want to learn and will choose materials that enable them to fulfill a specific need. The sensitive periods of a young child’s learning must be allowed to flourish unimpeded. The best way for this to happen is within a prepared environment such as I’ve briefly described above. This environment is a special place of learning in which children are allowed to explore, discover and select their own work. In doing so, they gain independence on both an emotional and a social level which enables them to become comfortable and confident in their ability to understand their world, ask questions, puzzle out answers and learn without being compelled by an adult.

The Cylinder Blocks Incident

A while ago, I was in our Parksville campus and spent a delightful 15 minutes watching a little boy (almost 3) happily replacing all of the cylinders into all four cylinder blocks.

For those of you who may not be familiar with this material, the cylinder blocks are four solid blocks of wood with different sized cylinders neatly fit into 10 holes that have been drilled into the block.  I think a picture will give you a better idea of what I’m trying to describe..



The presentation starts with the child being shown how to carefully and gently remove all of the cylinders from one block and then replacing them.  The teacher models to the child how to look into each hole before replacing the cylinder in order to get a more accurate idea of where each goes.


When the child has mastered each cylinder block separately, he is invited to work with two blocks at once.


Then eventually, three….


and, after much practise, four.


I have watched adults enjoy the challenge of replacing all the cylinders and can well imagine the sense of accomplishment a child feels – after months of patient focus and practise – when he replaces that final cylinder in the fourth block.  Sheer pride and delight. That is what I was waiting for while watching the ‘almost 3’- that moment when the internal satisfaction bubbles up to the surface and erupts into a big grin.

 He had set up his work on one end of a table big enough for two and there was an older boy working at the other end. With the height of the blocks added to the height of the table, the younger child was just tall enough to peer into each hole to replace a cylinder.  His face was a study in concentration as he carefully replaced the cylinders in their proper holes.  Picking up one of the largest (tall and wide) he correctly decided that it must fit into the hole farthest away – just out of his reach.

He stretched his arm as far as he could and managed to rest one side of the cylinder in the hole.  The rest of the cylinder leaned out precariously and, try as he might, he could not push it into the hole.  No problem, he would just walk around to the other side of the table.  Unfortunately, as he was walking, his table mate reached over and pushed the cylinder into place with his finger!

 The younger child stopped in his tracks, eyes locked on the cylinder, then he slowly levelled a look at the older child.  He glared for a full 5 seconds after which he deliberately pulled the cylinder back out of the hole, leaned it precariously and walked around to the far side of the table.  Another warning glance at his table mate then back around he walked to lift his hand and push the cylinder into place.  That done,  he took a step back, stared at the older child for another few seconds, then calmly went back to finish his work.  Not a word had been exchanged.

Eventually, the last cylinder was replaced and there it was.  That look of accomplishment and delight.  It lit up his face as he looked at his completed work.  He did not look to anyone else for approval.  He did not peer around the classroom to see if the teacher was watching and he obviously didn’t feel the need to tell her.  He had done the work for himself, all by himself and he didn’t need any external validation.

I am so glad that I was on hand to witness it and am still giggling about the nonverbal exchange between the children.



Consider school




“To consider the school as the place where instruction is given is one point of view.  But to consider the school as a preparation for life is another.  In the latter case the school must satisfy all the needs of life.”  (Montessori, 1997, p. 5)


Montessori, M. (1997). From childhood to adolescence. Oxford: ABC-Clio Ltd. 

The Elementary Formal Dinner

Every year, our elementary students prepare and hold a formal dinner……for themselves.  It is a wonderful event and the infectious magic of the preparations filters through the entire school as delicious smells waft through the halls and excited primary children sneak peeks at the industries taking place in the elementary classrooms.
Elementary's Formal Dinner 2015
Preparation begins weeks before when the teachers and the students decide on the menu. Usually this involves the children making suggestions and then voting on those suggestions.  Over the years, the dinner has included any combination of  appetizers, salads, soup, entrees  and desserts.   Depending on the group of children, the dinner may include anything from macaroni & cheese to ginger maple glazed chicken.

Once the menu is set, the students make place-cards.   The menu is printed on one side of the card and the child’s name is handwritten on the other.

The next step is buying the food.  The menu is broken down into ingredients and the teachers help the students figure out the amounts they will need.  As soon as the shopping list is written out,  a small group of the older children are taken to a local grocery store to purchase everything they will need to make the dinner.  Although they are driven to the store by an adult, they are not guided around the store.  The children are expected to push the cart around the store and find the items on their list.  If they need help, they are to ask someone who works at the store.  This does not mean that the driver just dumps the children at the store then goes to grab a coffee. ;0)  Far from it.  Having been the adult in question on several occasions, I find it best to hang out by the magazine rack in case the children need to find me.

Once the groceries have been bought and paid for, the children return to the school and the cooking begins.   By this time, another group of children have had time to really look at the recipes and decide how many steps are involved and what needs to be prepared.


While the food is being prepared, another group of children make the table arrangements. Our Board Chairman, Eveline Stokkink, brings in an assortment of fresh flowers every year and guides the children as they make beautiful centrepieces for the tables.

By 3 o’clock, the food has all been prepared and put away, the classroom has been tidied and the tables have been set, so the children go home to prepare themselves for the festivities.  Since this is a formal dinner,  the children take great pleasure in dressing up in their finery.  Over the years, we have seen everything from three piece suits  to freshly pressed Hawaiian shirts, opera length gloves to feather boas, and bolo ties to bow-ties.

Once the children are gone, the party elves spring into action. (The party elves are the teachers and any other faculty members who can be pressed into service).  We set the tables, string fairy lights, tie balloons to the back of each chair, set up the music, and begin to warm the food for serving.

By 5pm the children begin to arrive and find the room transformed. (At this point, the parents are “allowed” to stay for 15 minutes to take pictures.  After that, they are politely whisked out the door so that the festivities can begin.)


Excited chatter fills the air as they discuss the table settings, their attire, how much they are looking forward to the dinner, and how” cool” the whole event is.  This is my favourite part of the whole evening.  The youngest children are attending their first Formal Dinner.  For the previous 3 years, as Primary students, they watched (and smelled) the preparations and often wished they could take part.


Now, as they enter the classroom, one can see that they truly feel they’ve arrived.  They stand a little taller, eyes wide and shining.  Many of them don’t stop smiling all evening.  In like manner, the older elementary children enter the room with happy anticipation.  Although they’ve attended previous Formal Dinners, their renewed sense of wonder is unmistakable.


After dinner, someone inevitably asks “May we dance?” So tables are moved out of the way and the music is turned up. The children dance and dance……until…….their parents arrive and it is time to say farewell.

Our Elementary Formal Dinner is a long held school tradition.  It is another bonding experience for the students as well as a safe venue for the children to practically apply the lessons of formal socializing.  It is also a lot of fun for students and teachers alike.





Include Storytelling in your Family’s Daily Routine

Children love to listen to stories about their parent’s childhood and their family origins. Not only will these types of stories give your child a sense of belonging and a legacy to respect but they also help to develop a child’s ability to visualize and create mental pictures, and much more

According to Emory University psychologist, Dr. Marshall Duke, the more children know about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believe their family is functioning. (Fieler, B., March 15, 2013. New York Times.)

However, in a Huffington Post blog entry, Dr. Duke adds “ It is not the content of what is known that is the critical factor, but the process by which these things came to be known. This process is, in our opinion, the causational factor. In order to hear family stories, people need to sit down with one another and not be distracted. Some people have to talk and some have to listen. The stories need to be told over and over and the times of sitting together need to be multiple and occur over many years. The most convenient times traditionally have been family dinners, family trips in the car, vacations, and birthday gatherings, etc.” (Duke, M. March 23, 201. Huffington Post.)

By hearing family stories, children discover characteristics about themselves that they have in common with an earlier ancestor. For example, a musically talented child might delight in the knowledge that his great-grandfather played an instrument and sang in the church choir. Your child may be interested to hear about where you and your partner met, where your mother grew up, the source of your child’s name, or some things that happened to you while your child was at school. Remember that what interests one child may not interest another so try telling different stories at different times. Eventually your child may start asking to hear “ the one about Great Grandma and the mouse in the teacup” again.

Squirting Water

“G. is squirting water!”  A disgruntled student told the teacher

The teacher looked up and said “I wouldn’t be impressed by someone squirting water.  Are you impressed? I actually might be kind of upset if someone squirted me with water.”

The student looked at the teacher for a moment and then, realizing there really wasn’t any more to be said,  walked away.

The student resumed her work.  The teacher resumed her observations.  Water was no longer being squirted.

BOOM! The Montessori way!

Embellished Work

While growing up I was often reminded by my teachers and my parents NOT to draw on my school work because it looked messy. To this day I can remember the sense of frustration and confusion this reminder caused because I was proud of my finished work and wanted to make it look more attractive.

Fast forward to our recent parent/student/teacher conferences where, much to my delight, I observed page after page of cheerfully decorated finished work. All of the grammar box symbols were carefully filled in over the appropriate words, the chart work showed much attention to detail , the stories were extensively illustrated – even the math pages were beautifully decorated. It was an absolute joy to behold.

You see, in our Casa classes, young students are often invited to decorate their work.  This allows them to take a mental break, if they want it, without having to leave their work. It also allows a child to express his or her pride in their accomplishments by making their work as beautiful as possible. As they move through the Metal Inset exercises, young children hone their pencil skills. As they work with the colour tablets, their learn to appreciate all the colours in their environment. These skills spill over onto all of their written work. More importantly, there is no teacher telling them not to draw or colour on their work.

By the time these same students reach the elementary classrooms, their skills have vastly progressed. Now their work is embellished with enthusiasm.  Here are just a few examples of illustrated work from the elementary classrooms.





Unfortunately, I didn’t take a picture of the grammar work so I’ve borrowed an image from Caboolture Montessori School in Brisbane, Australia.  (Hopefully they won’t mind.  This really is a beautiful example of what I’m trying to show. Thank you, Luca.)


Sometimes, a students doesn’t even need coloured pencils to decorate the work.  Here one can clearly see how this student let his creative side go a little crazy.



Dr. Montessori’s World View


“All things are part of the universe and are connected with each other in order to form one whole entity….The concept of an education centred upon the creation of the living being alters all previous ideas.  Resting no longer on a curriculum, or a timetable, education must conform to the facts of human life.”

I’m just going to leave that there for a while.  🙂



Montessori, M. (1948). The discovery of the child. Trans. M. Joseph Costelloe, S.J. Oxford England: Clio Press.

The Montessori 6-12 Classroom


For over 25 years, Discover Montessori has had a 6-12 classroom. However, three years ago, we decided to try splitting the elementary classroom into upper and lower elementary classrooms. Having now had experience with both models, we are returning to the 6-12 model because it truly works better by taking advantage of Dr. Montessori’s second plane of development.


Image source: Des Peres Montessori

              The 6-12 model works because, if you look at the chart above, there is no split in the line of progression and regression of a student’s development. The year of mastery is the final year of each plane. By splitting the second plane to accommodate an upper and lower elementary, we are expecting the 9 year olds to step into a leadership position before they have experienced the line of regression – before they have had any time to fully understand and refine the skills they have been working on for the past three years. It is the 11/12 year olds who are the true leaders of this plane of development and it is to them that the younger elementary students look for mentorship.