Saturday, February 20, 2010

False Fatigue and the Three-Hour Work Cycle

As predicted, having our house on the market is affecting my blog frequency. We had a lull with no showings. I was so used to working at top speed all the time to get the house ready that I didn't know what to do with myself when it finally was ready, but I had no showings to prepare for. So, I blogged...a lot. Then, the lull ended and it seems like it is "all showings, all the time" around here. At the same time, Kal-El came down with his first ear infection. Not surprisingly, I disappeared for a week.

Over the course of the past year I have received a lot of private questions about the length of our work cycle. I am a big believer in the Montessori "three-hour work cycle." There are many places you can read about this in the literature if you are unfamiliar with it. I have also noticed that most Montessori homeschools do not complete the three-hour work cycle. In fact, 1.5 hours seems to be the most popular time frame. I have always suspected that the "false fatigue" that occurs halfway through the cycle might be the reason for this phenomenon.

So, when a new blog I am reading addressed this issue this week I thought I should pass the link on to all of you. It may give you something new to think about. Are your work cycles shorter because it is what works best for your family? Because it's really what your child can handle? Or are you calling it quits early due to "false fatigue"? I think it is more difficult for a home educator to recognize it with their handful of children (or sometimes only child) than it is for a Montessori teacher who observes 30 children per day year after year.


  1. Thanks for the link. This is something I've heard alluded to, so it's nice to get more detail. I'm going to start working on having a regular worktime everyday (something we've done rather poorly at up until this point) and see if we can get up to three hours.

  2. This is off topic, but I just wanted to let you know that I nominated you for the Sunshine Award. I know you already have one, but I do love your blog!

  3. I have some questions about what this perid of false fatigue is like with your boys, if you don't mind. Do they get silly? Do they just get restless? Do they stay in the school room? Do you let them get a snack or something? (I don't remember seeing you ever mention snacks during school time, so I am curious.)

  4. Evenspor,

    The boys definitely do not leave the school room and we do not do snacks. They tend to get up from a serious work and wander around for a while. Sometimes Kal-El will go choose some super easy practical life works off of Me Too's shelves (like a whole-hand transfer of all things). Often the wandering is combined with taking works off the shelf, starting them, and then putting them away after 30 seconds. Sometimes they try to get silly (like finding a lion lacing bead from practical life and trying to get away with having it climb up and down the brown stair. Once they tried to pretend the pouring beans were "fish" and scatter them around the room). When they do things like that, or take out a material and use it inappropriately I do not allow it. At the same time, I don't suggest a break, or a snack, or leaving the room. I don't suggest works "for them" and it is definitely the wrong time to try to work with them with the moveable alphabet or something.

    Usually they eventually get sick of the wandering and taking things on and off the shelf and settle in with a relatively easy work. Then, just like they did the first half of the period, they slowly ramp up into what usually turns out to be their best work of the day...even better than the end of their "first half."

    If you look at my Feb 9th "school day post" the false fatigue occurred right after the sand tray. After doing a lot of letter and numbers he started pretending his hands were "dump trucks" and pushing the sand into piles in corners. I simply said "the sand tray is for making letters and numbers and shapes. You can make more letters, numbers, or shapes if you want or you can put that away." He chose to put it away, did the wandering and sampling. Finally, as you can see from that post he settled in with some pre-sensorial works off of Me Too's shelf. If I had called it "quits" when he got silly with the sand we would have missed all of that great geography work that followed.

    Fewer than five times ever, Kal-El has announced at the 1.5 mark that he "doesn't want to be in the school anymore." In that case, I let him leave. Me Too and I try to stay. Kal-El came back after 10-15 minutes a couple of times. A couple times he didn't return, but than asked to do school again that afternoon (after naps).

  5. Interesting concept! Our local Montessori school has 1 hour and 15 mins free choice in the morning and 1 hour and 20 minutes free choice in the afternoon. All the other times are taken up with morning circle, washing up, lunch, snack, changing shoes, etc.

    As for our homeschool, we don't have a set schedule but I may start observing and keep track of JC's rhythms throughout the day. I would say much of her time is spent on free play which she enjoys. Since she's an only child, I play with her during our organized activities or she plays with her friends when they come over.

    Good to have you back!

  6. Keep in mind that a Montessori classroom does not start off with a 3-hour work period at the beginning of the school year (especially if it's a new classroom or if you have lots of new young children). It's a gradual build-up, kind of like training for a marathon. :)

  7. Montessori Matters,

    I know, I'm not talking at all about "the beginning." I'm talking about ongoing classrooms.

  8. Min,

    I don't know if you belong to the Yahoo group "Montessori Online." Discussions about the 3 hour work cycle and the problem that most Montessori schools aren't using it anymore come up very frequently. The consensus always seems to be that they "should be" but are letting circle times and specials get in the way. You can dig through their archives.

  9. Interesting post! We don't really have the *time* during Pita Pocket's nap to complete a 3 hour work cycle, but in any case - Short Pants does always get tired of lessons after about 1.5 hours (and that's on a good day!).

  10. I wrote that comment for your readers who might just be starting out with their Montessori experience, so they won't expect instant perfect three-hour work periods and feel bad if they're not successful.

    It takes experience (like the type you have) to re-route children into a second work cycle, and it's important for moms to know that this takes time and practice. That's all. :)

  11. Very interesting. Thanks. I find your success with this inspirational, with so many people who have decided that Montessori just can't be worked properly at home. I think part of the problem is in misunderstanding little things like this. (Then again, reading the comments, that seems to be a problem in some schools too.)

  12. I wonder what age this applies? I'm debating when to actually start "school" time at home, if not at all.

  13. Min,

    I think this article will answer your question:

  14. Montessori Matters,

    Of course, thank you. I should probably throw some links up in a post that give a plan of action for getting to that point.

  15. Our classroom is in the living room because we have such a small house. We do not have a spare room to devote to a classroom. What do you suggest when you can't keep them in an area where they can only use the materials during their fatique? When my son experiances this fatique he just starts playing with his other toys or moves to a different room and does not come back. Any ideas?

  16. Zonnah,

    That's a tough one. You, of course, are the expert on your kids and home and what I suggest here may not work for you. We ARE very lucky to have an extra room for this.

    I thought about what I would do if we DIDN'T have the extra room and did this in our family room. Our family room has a door. So, I would would shut it during school time. As I said in a comment, just a couple times, Kal-El has declared himself "done with school" and completely left the room. I have never stopped him from doing that. I don't want to make the materials a "battle" in any way. Having the door shut makes leaving less likely I think.

    The family room would work for us because we DO NOT store toys in the family room. Nearly all of the boys' toys are stored in the closets in their bedrooms. The doors have a child lock at the top. We use this as a "toy library" and they choose toys throughout the day. When they want something new, they have to pick up what they have out and exchange it. As a result, there wouldn't necessarily be toys in the family room for them to turn to. Nor would there be a large collection of toys in a different room of the house for them to escape to.

    We have a train table in the family room. I would cover that with a blanket or put away the actual trains right before "school" started.

    I don't know if that helps, but it might at least give you a new idea to play around with in your mind and might help you strike upon the right solution for you.

    I do know that many Montessori school have an outside play area accessible directly from the classroom and kids are allowed to go outside whenever they wish DURING the three hour work period.

    I also know that some families have their materials available 24/7. I think this only works if they have very few other toys and those toys are simple things like blocks that would be appropriate in a Monti school in the first place.

    Good luck!

  17. Thank you that was helpful. I think I will take your idea about the toys and making a toy library. I think that would help a lot. I might have to make a bigger deal about when school starts so he can reconize the transition. Thanks!