In today’s blog post we are diving deep into the ebbs and flows of the three-hour Montessori work cycle. Once the children settle into their day, you can see them with a sense of happiness and satisfaction absorbed in their work. There is a productive hum in the studio. Then, about an hour into the morning work cycle, there is a noticeable rise in movement and voices, and it appears the children begin to lose interest in their work. Dr. Maria Montessori termed this natural restlessness as “False Fatigue”.
She further observed that this period lasts for about 20 minutes and the children used this time to get to the next level of their work, to find their focus and concentration in their own time. Dr. Montessori explained this phenomenon as the child searching for their “maximum interest.” She went on to explain that this period of “false fatigue” is necessary for the child to get absorbed in more challenging work in the studio.
Consider false fatigue in the same way you would take a break for fresh air, or to stand up and get away from your desk. The child experiences the same “mental” need, the need for a reset so they may get back to properly concentrating on their work again.
As guides, we are trained to observe and stay back and put our full faith in the child and the Montessori environment. When the guides step back and avoid disrupting the period of false fatigue, the children have the opportunity to return to their work with more focus and concentration than the prior period.
It is part of our inner work (takes so much practice) to not work on mitigating the restlessness. A Montessori Musing Place writes: “By anxiously stepping in and ‘managing’ at this point, teachers (guides) replace the child’s will with their own.” That observation sums up the impact of “doing something” about false fatigue. Interfering may actually make the period of false fatigue last longer.
“Work chosen by the children, and carried out without interference, has its own laws. It has a beginning and ending like a day, and it must be allowed to come full circle.” ~ E.M. Standing, Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work