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The Work Plan: Choosing and Planning in Primary

When I enter our Primary classroom, I am amazed by the humming and buzzing created by students moving around and connecting with each other and with the materials on our shelves. They are busy exploring and learning on so many different levels each minute and every day. Montessori classrooms emphasize self-regulation, personal responsibility, and social harmony. The structure of a Montessori classroom gives our students important opportunities to:

  • gain independence

  • thrive in a safe, inclusive community

  • take personal responsibility for their actions

  • feel in control of their being

  • self-direct their learning 

  • spontaneously follow their interests

  • make choices within limits

Student working on map project with work plan next to him

As Montessori teachers, we gently guide our students toward finding inner balance and a sense of accomplishment. Often, this is a delicate balancing act between honoring children’s spontaneous curiosity, sharing responsibility, and helping them fulfill obligations. We assist in that process by continuously observing our students; giving the right lesson at the right time; intentionally inviting children for small group lessons; and sometimes by making a plan together.

This plan–we call it a work plan–usually applies to the older children in a Montessori classroom, because they are cognitively ready to start making choices in a more nuanced way. In a Primary classroom, these are the Kindergarteners, or as we like to call them, the Y3’s. At the beginning of Primary, children tend to make work choices based on what they know and what they see–the layout and aesthetic of the shelves as well as the example of older peers, and of course teacher lessons, are important factors in student success at this stage. At some point, usually during the second year, children become more able to reflect before making a choice, asking questions like: What is unfinished from yesterday? What haven’t I done in a while? or How will I practice? By introducing the work plan, we support another change that occurs when reflection progresses towards anticipation and advance planning. The work plan provides a framework for answering even harder questions like: What will tomorrow look like? When do I prefer doing my hardest work, and when will I need a break? Or even: What work can I successfully do with my friend?

teacher with students discussing their work plan

In order to fill out or create a work plan, we meet with students on the first day of each week and discuss what might go into the plan. Each student is invited to check for unfinished work in their work drawer, suggest material or projects that they are interested in, and listen to teachers’ suggestions. Often, the planned works consist of using language and math materials that involve multiple steps towards reaching a goal and/or that need repeated practice to show proficiency. Together, we write these choices into the student’s plan, usually starting with only two choices to make goals attainable. By the end of the day (or in the morning the following day), we conference and see what worked or didn’t work – unfinished tasks get transferred to the next day and something new might be added. Although each classroom’s work plan has some unique, personalized elements, the general idea, and certainly the benefits, are consistent across classrooms. 

student writing his work plan

Typically, we introduce work plans once classroom ground rules are established and we have built trust and mutual respect. By this point in the year, our Y3’s have found their place in the classroom community and are beginning to understand the responsibilities that come with that, including making appropriately challenging work choices. Over time (starting in Primary and continuing in Lower Elementary), they learn to set reasonable goals, pace themselves, and hold themselves accountable. They will also understand that a finished plan is less important than the process of planning and re-planning. We, teachers, know that our tools have aided in a child’s healthy development when we hear that hum and buzz in the classroom and observe the smiles that indicate a well-earned sense of accomplishment.

Want to learn more about how work plan and executive functioning works in elementary level? Check out our blog here.

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