Wednesday, May 18

The Importance of Uninterrupted Time



In my Montessori training I was introduced to the concept of a "work cycle." In short, Dr. Montessori taught the importance, backed by her own observation and study, of giving children a lengthy period of time, three hours to be precise, of uninterrupted work time. This period of time was determined by Dr. Montessori as the required amount of time for a child to progress into the most in depth concentration and intellectual exploration, which then results in the most significant progression and growth. Dr. Montessori taught that not only will this lengthy, uninterrupted time lead to the most intellectual growth, but equally important, at it's conclusion it leaves the child with a feeling of peace and calm satisfaction. In my own observations as a stay at home mother, I have often wondered if a "work cycle" is the same as a "play cycle?" Montessori did say that "play is the work of the child." I believe they are one in the same.



Dr. Montessori elaborated a bit on the work cycle when she observed reasons for such a lengthy work time, I too make these same observations with my own children. Montessori taught in the beginning of the work cycle a child will choose (or sometimes wander until something catches his attention) and work with an object for shorter periods of time. They play and work but it changes from one to the next as their shorter attention dictates. I see this almost every morning in our home. We have playtime in the morning as soon as breakfast is finished. My daughters will wander and start and change activities more frequently. It is at this time that they haven't found that activity that will carry them through the morning. Montessori then taught that as the work cycle continues, the child displays a false sense of fatigue. It is at this point the adult questions the cycle and often ends the cycle to change activities- therefore ending play/work time. Montessori taught that this false fatigue is instrumental in allowing the child to move to the most important work to come. Yes, this is the time when as a mother I wonder if they are actually going to find an activity they can stick with. Sometimes they ask for a snack (snack is whenever they want it during the morning allowing us to continue the cycle and not interrupting the most important time), and sometimes they just continue to move to the next activity. Montessori said it is after the false fatigue that the child will find the activity that he/she will delve into with great concentration and focus- almost like everything else was a warm up for the work/play to come.




This usually happens at the last third of our play time. It is at this point they have found the activity - the activity that they are so focused on, using so much creativity and attention that they are immersed in it. And finally, Dr. Montessori observed at the conclusion of the cycle the child is at peace with a calm satisfaction and content, as if rested. One of the reasons we don't run errands or have other planned interruptions in our morning is because I guard this time as a very important part of our day. If my children get the entire play/work time, uninterrupted, I know we will have a better day. I see the concentration, the peace, the focus, the creativity, the lengthening of their attention and in all, the important work that is done when I give them a long, uninterrupted time for play and work each day.

22 comments:

Jennifer Williams said...

I totally agree.... I find that my girls 'wake up' after being immersed in play..... just as Montessori described after a child being immersed in an activity.... they suddenly look up and click back into the rest of the world, all refreshed and at peace.... I also value my children's ability to organise and occupy themselves in this way as a valuable skill for later in life so well worth protecting the time!
Best Wishes, Jenni x

Megan said...

Fascinating! Do you know what age this starts to apply? My daughter just turned 2 and still needs some help with purposeful play. I find this topic so interesting...I wonder if breaking their cycle is a contributor to tantrums?hmmm

Mel said...

This is such an interesting idea - and new to me. I just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers. Toward the end of the book, he writes about how our American society (in general) does not teach our children in school settings to really stick to learning something if they don't understand something at first (one reason being that teachers are often expected to cover a lot of material in a short period of time). If a student does not understand something right away, they often think they aren't good at that subject, but if they were encouraged to give more time and energy to it, they most likely would understand it very well (and sometimes even better than the students who figured it out quickly, because they had to work through it and problem-solve). The ideas in your post are perhaps a good way we can encourage persistence even at a young age.

Olives and Pickles said...

Such a important post!!Thank you for the input.
patty

WendyKrug said...

What a wonderful post! I observe the same behavior in our home with my 3 and 5 year olds and also guard that morning playtime against appointments and errands. Do you offer an activity/plaything for the morning and play alongside them or just let them go independently until they are content with something? Thanks for sharing!

Amy said...

Lovely Comments!
Megan- I don't know at what age this would begin. I would think it starts smaller and grows in length as the child matures reaching the 3 hr. cycle for a 3-6 year old- which is what I studied for- so I know it applies for those ages. I have set aside our mornings since my girls could walk so they are used to this amount of time. The instrumental aspect of the cycle is that the child is free to choose the activities and given a lengthy amount of time.

Wendy- I typically let them go on their own. They find plenty to do and if there is an occasional "I don't know what to do" I'll offer suggestions. I feel like it is so important for them to be self motivated and independent-at least from me- but they play together well. I keep their play time separate from our activities like crafts or baking. Because activities are generally initiated by me, I want them to have "their" time as their own, to be self-directed completely. I also feel like introducing something might be an interruption so I save it for another time during the day.

The Sunshine Crew said...

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MIlle idee al nido said...

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Mel said...

Hi again - I was just re-reading this and looking at your "Rhythm of our days" on your sidebar. How long do you usually let your children play? You mentioned that Dr. Montessori talked about 3 hours. My kids (3 and 5) often struggle with 30 minutes of unguided play. Does this big chunk of time happen before circle time and outside time or are they somehow incorporated? Do you have recommendations for helping a child learn to play longer during uninterrupted time? Sorry for all of these questions - I'm just trying to figure out how this could look at our house. Thank you!

Amy said...

Hi Mel-
We have breakfast and then inside play and then a quick (10 min) circle after about twice a week. (Once spring and summer arrive we don't do circle as often or as long as the winter) Then we are outside. Usually play will start by 8am and go to 10:45 or so. I try to have 2 1/2 to 3 hrs of play. During this time I am usually doing housework so I am available for issues that come up but am not hovering over them. They see me productive and busy and they do the same. I usually start cleaning up at about 2 1/2 hrs while they finish up playing otherwise it starts getting late for outside time. (We eat a late lunch at 1pm in the warmer months) I think the more play time you give them the more they can adjust and really learn to love the longer play time. Also, make sure to have "open ended" toys. Blocks, beanbags, playsilks, that type that can be used in a variety of ways and play activities.

Foster said...

Do you do this every day? What about things like library story time, children's museum, park meet-ups w/ other moms & kids, etc? I am v intrigued by this idea, but we don't get up until 8 or 9 am & then my baby takes a nap at 11 or 12.. I know that we could visit museums & such later in the day. Many things close at five, though, so a late start due to napping & lunch could mean a cancelled trip & I also have to get home to make dinner.

Do you just have certain days that you might go out in the morning & say no on other days? We have many many opportunities to get out and socialize during the week. I only pick a few for us, but other moms always schedule them to start at 10am.

The Education Of Ours said...

Having the time to work or play begins at birth. my proudest moments come from time just watching.

Anonymous said...

I love this post! my little girl also spends hours lost in play (she is 3 and a half). We used to schedule outings in the mornings, but now we only go to a music class once a week. I just love seeing her play. The laundry basket, a blanket and pillows are her favorite playthings.

Thank you for sharing! I love your blog. It is a great inspiration.
Have a wonderful week.
Esther

Amy said...

Thanks for sharing the comments, it is nice to hear the thoughts and questions.
Foster- Yes, we do this everyday except for weekends. Saturday is the "out and about" day for us with library, store, errands or sights. It has always worked for us to use mornings as the uninterrupted time and afternoons as more flexible if we want to go for a walk in the woods, walk to the playground, swimming in the summer, biking, etc. I have always just felt that their playtime is the most important and that mornings felt natural because of the energy and eagerness. It sounds like afternoons might work better for you. Whether it is afternoon or morning that works, the most important thing is that the children get a good, long, amount of uninterrupted playtime that is consistent on a daily basis.

Heather said...

This is very fascinating! When I watch my boys and they are completely immersed in their play, I am so happy. My husband and I usually say they are "in the zone". But, this post explains it so well.

Umm Umamah said...

Wow a very important and awesome post. Thank you so much. I have also noticed the importance of play time right after breakfast rather than straight to work I am working with older kids and wondering how to best work this with them. There have been so many days when I have seen my boys immersed in Lego or other building toys for hours. But I have 6th grader, second grader and a preschooler to work with I fin it hard to be able to give them very long free play time in the mornings as all other lessons then get pushed down or just don't get done. Recently we have been doing more hands on and VERY LITTLE paper work. But I do feel my eldest especially needs to get more written work done. I would love to know your thoughts on adapting this idea with older children

Amy said...

I wish I had more knowledge about the older age groups or could point you in the right direction to find more information. I do know that typically a full day Montessori program (for a school age child) has two work cycles or two long blocks of time- one in the morning and one in the afternoon. For an older child I would assume it is a mix of hands on and written work. I understand what you mean about the importance of written work for an older child. If it were me, I would have a long work time in the morning for the younger child to have freedom to play/work while the older children work on a mix of academics (choosing from a few different choices) and then have a second work cycle in the afternoon for less academic, studies of interest type. You have a wide range in ages. My hat is off to you!

Julia said...

This is really interesting and helpful. I'm just curious - what do you do during this three hour chunk of time and do you ever play with the children too? My son is 2 and 9 months and will often ask me to play with him but I find that if I start playing then I can pull out and he'll play on his own as long as I have handwork to do in the same room. If I get up and start doing busy work - cleaning kitchen, etc, that really seems to interrupt his play. I would love to hear what you do during this 3 hour play cycle. And any advice would be welcome too! Thanks!

Amy said...

Julia,
After breakfast my daughters start play and I do housework (sweeping, dishes, laundry, organizing, meal prep) . They usually just go off on their own to play. Because they are older, I think it is easier for them to occupy themselves for longer periods of time. When they were younger I would sometimes set up an activity or two- something that could be done without the need for me to be right there (these can be found under the "toddler" label on the blog) I would start by having something ready for that time when your child has lost interest in play or doesn't want you to leave his side. It may take some time for your child to adjust to the idea of you doing something other than sitting next to him, but it can also be positive in that if he ends his play and follows you around he could" help you". Before my daughters entered into "fantasy play" they really liked to spend mornings doing real activities-helping me and practicing doing the chores they saw me doing. One word of advice would be to make sure the activities you do during his play time are worthy of imitation and not so involved that you can't stop what you are doing to address problems or needs. I do light housework in the morning but would never plan on cleaning the entire house during this time (I typically do the once a week house cleaning after they are in bed) because I view it as "their" time and I need to available for their needs.

Sarah said...

Great post! And comments as well. I sometimes struggle with feeling like I should be playing with my two instead of doing my own thing in the mornings. Even if they are happily playing by themselves, I feel guilty to be doing housework or what-have-you instead of spending time with them.

I just came across your blog today and am really enjoying it so far!

Amber said...

So, how do you implement this 3 hour work time? I struggle to get my kids (2 and 4 years old) to even do anything on their own for 20 minutes. I would love some insight. Thanks!

Amy said...

My advice would be to start stretching those 20 minutes a little bit at a time. Let them know that it is their time to choose activities and try not to interrupt. Have some activities -water play, puzzles or something they will like that is kind of special, for a transition time -once they've played/worked and need help transitioning to another activity have something fun available. Allow your children to see you doing purposeful work so they get the idea. Often if my kids don't see me engaged in a purposeful task they will seek me out, if they see I'm doing my own thing too, they take that cue. It might be a good time to take stock of what toys and activities are used and what isn't, what could be added or taken away. There is a balance between too much (which can make it hard for a child to chose or settle down) and not enough to stimulate. Even adding a few new things - wooden spools, a new playdough, squares of fabric to play with or a new activity like sink and float experimenting can ignite a new creativity that can carry the child into more play/work.