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The Three-Period Lesson

As a parent interested in the Montessori method, you may have heard about the three-period lesson, a hallmark of Montessori education that helps young children learn vocabulary and concepts.

In simple terms, the three steps, or periods, are:

  • 1. Naming (Introduction) “This is a dog.”
  • 2. Recognizing (Identification) “Show me the dog.”
  • 3. Remembering (Cognition) “What is this?”

The three-period lesson was developed by Edouard Seguin, a French physician who worked with special needs children in France and the United States during the late 19th century. He discovered ways to increase children’s cognitive abilities and believed in the importance of developing their self-reliance and independence. Seguin’s writings were a major inspiration to Maria Montessori and the source of many of her practical ideas.

Your role as your child’s first teacher is not the same as a trained educator. Quite naturally, you have been using the three-period lesson as you communicate with your baby and toddler. Your use of this “lesson” is much more informal than in a classroom setting. It is a tool to allow you to see your child’s knowledge of a particular concept, and a technique to keep in mind throughout his childhood.

Girls at Piano“Look, Mom, Girls at the Piano!”

Here’s a fond memory I have of the three-period lesson in action with my own family:

When my children were young, my mother sent them postcards of famous artworks. We would briefly talk about the picture, the title, the artist, and then place the card on a small easel on a shelf in their rooms. When she visited, my mother would play games with the children using the postcards. One rainy Sunday afternoon when our family was visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art, my 3 1/2 year-old daughter suddenly shouted out, “Girls at the Piano,” as we entered a gallery. There was Auguste Renoir’s painting, bigger than life, and one excited little girl, delighted with her discovery.

The First Period: “This is _______.”

You have been naming people, places, and things for your baby from the very beginning. These names are used over and over, clearly isolating and identifying objects with one-word descriptions.

The baby hears the sounds and begins to understand language.