The primary program and its curriculum develop over the course of the three years the child spends in the classroom. It is so important that the child be allowed to experience the Montessori environment for the full three years. Each three-year cycle of life builds upon the previous cycle and continues to cycle through the child's life into adulthood. The first year of each cycle is one of hesitation, shyness, and yet excitement as one is introduced to new beginnings. The second year holds more confidence and is a building year. The third year is one of mastery as learning and understanding come together for the child. And then the cycle begins anew.
The three-year-old enters the classroom with wide eyes to all the possibilities. The sensitive needs dictate the areas the child needs to work in. He is always working towards perfection and building his skills. This age child has a strong need for order. S/he is always aware of the smallest changes in the classroom. S/he keeps the five-year-olds in line when they put things back on the shelves in the wrong places. S/he notices new earrings the first day the teacher wears them. The three year old usually works independent of the other children, wanting to do everything without help, not really needing social interaction. Often he is content to simply watch others work, quietly absorbing the knowledge for future reference.
The four-year-old enters the classroom with confidence and excitement. Gone is the newness of the previous year. S/he rushes into the classroom to announce to his teachers "I'm back!" This is a year of building upon previously acquired knowledge. The driving need of the year before settles into determined work of the contented child. He knows the boundaries and expectations and can see where he's been (as a three year old) and where he wants to go (as a five year old). S/he looks up to the third year students and wants to learn how to read and do all the things those older students can do. Socialization becomes important as the child explores emotions and friendship.
The third year or Kindergarten year is one of completion. The child masters all areas of work. S/he becomes the leader, the ones others look up to for support and guidance. The kindergarten children become little teachers as they help the little ones tie shoes and put on their coats for recess. They love to read to their younger counterparts. Math and language and writing work take up the majority of their day. Many kindergarten children who have spent the first two years coming just half-day to school increase their day to full time so that they can experience the social time of lunch and have more time to develop their skills in the afternoon. Often, half day just isn't enough time for the Kindergarten child.
The best way to sum up the three year process may be to look at each year in terms of: Watcher, Worker, Teacher. The three-year-old is a Watcher absorbing everything going on in the environment. The four-year-old is a Worker who now confidently moves through the materials he so carefully observed the year before. The five-year-old is the Teacher who is mastering all the works, teaching others and combining and applying his knowledge to bigger endeavors (writing stories to go with the picture he created, taking pride in her ability to move from the concrete to abstract with some math works, etc.).