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The work period & The work cycle

Updated: May 10

There seems to be some confusion around the work period and the work cycle in the Montessori community. Not so much what they are and what is meant by them, but a lot of people refer to the work period as the work cycle. In my training and knowledge it's referred to as the work period and the work cycle is something completely different. So let's explain.

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What is the work period?

The work period is a block of time where a child is able to freely explore his environment and choose his work independently. Dependent on the childs age and overall personality the length of this work period will be slightly different.

For younger babies and toddlers you're looking at an hour or two maximum. As the child nears 3 that tends to increase to around 2.5-3.5 hour work period. Older children from 4 or 5 upwards will have 3-4 hour work periods, and usually one in the morning and one in the afternoon with rest time in between periods of work.

Now there is a general pattern of activity level during these Montessori work periods which is personally what I think people tend to think about when they refer to work periods as work cycles. However it's more of a timeline of factors that happen in a particular order, rather than a chain of events that cycle and repeat.

What is the work period timeline?

The work period timeline is how a child engages with work in their environment and the sort of "curve" of interest and activity during the work period.


At the start of the work period, there is often a transitional phase. In the classroom this is usually the morning routine of hanging coats, washing hands, circle times etc. But at home it will look quite different depending on if you home school or not.

Initial work

Then comes the initial work, the child will usually choose a work that is mastered or considered "easy" for their capabilities. This period is a sort of settling period where the child moves their energy into working with materials independently and choosing their work.

False Fatigue

After the initial work period, there comes a short period referred to as "false fatigue" by Maria Montessori. What is meant by false fatigue is that the child seems done with work, as if they have no motivation and is usually accompanied by various boredom behaviours like disturbing others, being easily distracted and general restless wandering around.

Now a lot of people when they see this period of false fatigue they try to stimulate the child, or involve them in a adult led activity. In the Montessori classroom however you'll see that the teachers do not step in oh this period unless the child is causing harm to themselves, others or the environment. Because it will eventually pass on its own and then the child enters himself into the earnest work!

Earnest work

Once the false fatigue has passed, the next period of the work timeline is the deepest concentrated work period. Usually involving deep thinking and concentration on new and difficult works that allow the child really challenge themselves and learn. This period has the most beautiful intense work.

Calm serenity

The last part of this timeline comes after that earnest work period and is a period of calm serenity. When the children feel challenged, like they've accomplished something difficult and feel at peace within themselves they start to feel calm and serene.

Below is the original chart from Maria Montessori herself in Spontaneous activity in Education

Now that you have a firm grasp on what the work period is, let's go over the work cycle.

What is the work cycle?

The work cycle refers to the cycle in which a child chooses their work and maintains their environment. Unlike the work period timeline where there is a start and a finish. This is a general cycle and order of how children work with the materials.

Chooses work

The first part of the work cycle is a child choosing their work from the shelves. They will be drawn to what interests them and eventually choose a work they wish to use.


The next part of the work cycle is where a child carries the tray with their work to a designated work space. This could be a table, mat or just an area of the floor. (Bare in mind many younger and older children will work AT the shelf) Then proceeding to work with their materials uninterrupted for as long as they wish.

Resetting the tray

When the child is finished working with their materials they then reset the materials back onto the tray or basket the way they found them. Again, it wont be perfect for younger toddlers but they can usually put the materials back fairly well.

Return to shelf

Once they have reset the tray, then they take the tray back to the part of the shelf they got it from and put it back for other children to work with. Then they will choose another work and so the cycle starts again.

Hopefully this has made understanding the work period and the work cycles in Montessori a little simpler and will also give you knowledge how a child works in their environment so you can observe and respond accordingly.

I believe Montessori is for everybody, I want to help everyone bring a little more Montessori into their homes and lives.

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