The Schedule of the Day in the Casa
by Janet McDonell

Dr. Montessori advised extended work periods for first plane children in the Casa:

“These long hours are necessary, if we are to follow a directed line of action which shall be helpful to the growth of the child.” (1912/1972 p.120)

Early in the year, it seems impossible that a group of young children can sustain their purposeful activity for three hours. However, experience shows that, indeed, they come to love and depend upon those long, uninterrupted mornings and afternoons. What are the conditions necessary to establish a responsive schedule of the day?


1. Beginning the morning.
After a couple weeks of orientation at the start of the new school year, the children need the freedom to begin the day choosing their activities. The arrival period is a time of transition from home to school and we can assist young children with this by offering them a consistent procedure. A warm and brief greeting at the door from their trusted teacher is all that’s needed. We can count on the beautiful and varied activities on the shelves to lure the children into the room. As with all transitions, the arrival period needs to be as brief as possible. If extended, the children will have difficulty settling as their classmates trickle in. A 10-minute arrival period is a reasonable window of time to offer to the parents. The work period begins when all the members of the community are present. It’s as if the children are saying: “All are here. Now, I can settle in.”

2. Avoiding interruptions.
Consider your classroom as a cocoon. There is a lot of life developing in that room and it needs to be protected from the outside world for a few hours. The children will much more easily give their attention to their inner guides when they experience the reassuring predictability of uninterrupted mornings. When someone outside the classroom community enters the room, children are distracted. If such interruptions happen regularly, many children will develop a defensive “radar.” They will acquire a habit of not giving themselves over to concentration so that they can be alert to the unpredictable events that might occur.

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 3. False Fatigue.
Beware of misinterpreting the restlessness that is common an hour or so into the morning. Montessori tells us that the children are simply in search of their “maximum interest.” One could easily conclude that the children are not able to continue working. It would be a mistake to gather the group at this point, though our observations might indicate that just such an action is necessary to avoid chaos. Montessori tells us that the child’s “great work” occurs in the second half of the morning. If we resist the urge to interfere during the agitation of false fatigue, we will find the children returning to activity, choosing more challenging work, and becoming deeply absorbed in it.
4. Transitioning out of the three-hour work period.
After the “great work” of the second half of the morning, Montessori observed that children experience “the higher social impulses, such as desiring to make confidences and to hold intimate communion with other souls.” (1918/1965 p. 80)

Aha! The perfect time for a change of scenery and atmosphere: the garden or schoolyard. Such a setting gives the maximum opportunity and freedom for social interchange. The end of the work period is not an optimal time for gathering the group and asking the children to keep still and quiet. Twenty to thirty minutes in the outdoors satisfies both social and physical needs at the end of a satisfying morning of work.

“If we resist the urge to interfere during the agitation of false fatigue, we will find the children returning to activity, choosing more challenging work, and becoming deeply absorbed in it.”


5. The afternoon: lunch and a second extended work period.
Eating after an outdoor session is much healthier than eating before. The physical activity and social stimulus of that free period helps prepare the child for a calm and satisfying lunch. Chatting at the lunch table takes on a more subdued tone than the conversations on the playground. The transition to the afternoon work period is gentle: when each child is finished eating, he or she can simply clean up and begin work (or take a nap if the child is still quite young). No hurrying, no waiting—both states to be avoided as much as possible with young children. In the afternoon, the children are ready, once again, to delve into spontaneous activity for an extended period of time. A two-hour block is necessary to accommodate the type of work that many of the older ones choose at this tranquil time of the day.
Have a good day!

Maria Montessori (1912/1973). The Montessori Method, Robert Bentley, Inc., Cambridge.
Maria Montessori (1918/1965). The Advanced Montessori Method, Vol. 1, Kalakshetra Press, India.

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