The Genius of Montessori Practical Life Activities!

The Genius of Montessori Practical Life Activities!

By Paula-Elizabeth Jordan

 

Montessori Practical Life is Genius! – So it’s no surprise that I was keen to write an article about it to share and explain why. I’m going to start by putting forward the purpose of Montessori Practical Life. The reason Maria Montessori initially introduced Practical Life exercises into the classroom was as my file simply states; “to bridge the gap between home and school”. They also help prepare a child for “work” in other areas of the classroom and I will explain more about how later on. All Practical Life exercises help a child to gain control over their movement and refine their dexterity and thus increase their ability to do things. The Practical Life exercises can be split into three areas plus learning the basic Ground Rules. 🙂

 

It makes sense that when introducing a child to a new environment that it’s a good idea to go over a few simple Ground Rules; to a small child this can be comforting as it gives them a guideline as to how they need to behave and conduct themselves. I would also like to point out here that this mirrors society – we have rules that we need to abide by in order to live together successfully and harmoniously. The Ground Rules are always kept very simple and centered on safety and respect for others. If there becomes a need to introduce a further rule, it is done when the need presents itself. I would also like to point out that there is no need to state them in a “heavy”, or “restricting” way to children; you really can introduce them easily and lightly when introducing new children to the classroom environment. I’ll let you in on a secret; get an older child to show a new child round and it’s a near certainty that they will automatically tell the child all the Ground Rules so you don’t have to! – So do you have any simpleGuideline” or Ground Rules at home so your child know what’s expected? 🙂

 

The first area is the application of the basic Practical Life exercises that would include: pouring threading, spooning, cutting (with scissors), etc. What I love so much about these activities is how they give the child so much more than the basic skill. With Practical Life activities there is always a direct aim and an indirect aim. The direct aim is a simple as, to introduce the child to spooning or to improve the child’s ability to pour etc. The indirect aims are far more extensive and this is where the realgenius” of the activity starts to come in. These are things such as to develop the child’s gross/ fine motor skills, to improve hand and eye co-ordination, to improve manual dexterity and to increase focus. It takes considered reflection to notice and understand how such simple everyday tasks support a child’s development in such a comprehensive way. I will expand a bit further on this later on. 🙂

 

The second area is defined as “Care of Self”, thus including all the activities that enable a child to look after him/herself. This ranges from being able to dress/ undress themselves (NB undressing themselves in a classroom setting would be when they need a change of clothes either for an activity, or because they’ve gotten their clothes wet), washing themselves and cleaning their teeth, plus care of their clothes such as shoe polishing/ welly-washing, folding etc. I would like you to note here that this is far easier to do at home than it is in a Montessori classroom. Maria Montessori designed the “dressing frames” to create more opportunity for the child to learn how to dress/ undress themselves. You would also find shoe polishing and welly-washing in a Montessori classroom; however at home you can for example get your child involved in helping you with the laundry – putting in the machine and taking it out, plus helping you to peg it out. Please note here that pegging is a great exercise for developing the tripod pincer grip needed for writing. Grace and Courtesy exercises are also included in this area; which is the beginning of social development. 🙂

 

The third and final area is exercises that take care of the environment. This includes things such as table wiping, pegging, sweeping, mopping, polishing – this could be either a wooden shelf or brass polishing, plus care of any outdoor equipment etc. Can you notice how it becomes very apparent here that a lot of “Ground Rules” are “built in” to various activities so you don’t need to have to keep reminding the child all the time and feeling like a nag – ha!! Table wiping crudely demonstrates that if something is spilt, it needs to be wiped up! – That to me is so simplistically brilliant! Plus, the child learns in doing all these activities how to move safely within his/her environment. This is also supported by balancing exercises such as walking on the line. 🙂

 

There is a “cycle of activity”, that basically means what the child needs to do from beginning to end in order to complete an activity. They begin by selecting it; all Montessori activities are isolated so the child immediately knows what they will be learning. Plus, they are presented silently; this automatically gives an expectation of the child to observe and learn. So the child subconsciously becomes aware that they need to complete the activity as they are being shown. That to me is just such a smart and insightful way to encourage children to listen and pay attention! – How did Montessori do it? – By observing and paying attention herself! I would just like to point out here that a child aged 0- 2.5/ 3 years is obviously not expected to do it as they are shown; they are presented to young toddlers to give them the opportunity to become familiar with them and prepare them for future learning. Whereas a child aged 2.5/3–6 years would definitely be expected to follow your example and experiment to the best of their ability. 🙂

 

I would like to touch on how Practical Life supports all other areas of learning and development. We’ve already touch on how it supports physical development from moving around the environment in a balanced and co-ordinated way, to motor development, hand-eye co-ordination and manual dexterity. So let’s briefly look at other areas. Obviously with all the different activities the child is being introduced to there is also new vocabulary that they will learn. The order of the environment and to which each activity is structured and presented lays the foundations for later maths development. I would just like to point out here that every child is individual and you don’t necessarily know exactly what they are gaining from each activity. There are the obvious gains; what about the other things that you may not even know they gleaned for months, or even years later? For example I distinctly remember as a child if I did an activity such as threading, I would automatically count each bead I threaded. Now I didn’t tell any Teacher that I did this; I just did it! – So how do you know that a child isn’t gaining far more than what may be apparent? 🙂

 

Socially a child is learning skills that will assist them is everyday life when they’re older, and this isn’t as we’ve discussed just the everyday practical activities, also other extremely important things like the ability to focus and co-ordinate his/her movement. Maria Montessori noted herself that “the child who learns to concentrate is immensely happy indeed”. I believe that this is because they feel more grown up because they’re able to learn things and thus feel more stable and secure within themselves. Hence also demonstrating how Practical Life also supports both intellectual and emotional development. Rockefeller is said to have quoted the key to his success as being his ability to focus all on his attention on one thing for five minutes. When you consider that’s your mind, body, heart and soul all focused on one thing – this much more difficult than one may initially consider, especially in today’s World with so many different distractions. Anyone able to focus their attention fully, even for a few minutes is obviously going to be able to learn more and feel a greater sense of inner peace. Plus, the order that a child learns from the Practical Life activities alone also supports his/ her inner order and thus well-being. 🙂

 

Practical Life also supports spiritual development first because children are taught the basic skills in grace and courtesy that encourages them to get along with each other and considerately and politely. Plus, there is a subconscious sense of “teamwork”; learning the types of skills that encourage being helpful and thoughtful towards others. Thus Practical Life subconsciously encourages children to be both independent and work alone, plus be part of the “community team” whether that’s within your “Family-Team”, or a Montessori Pre-School environment. 🙂

 

The enthusiasm to learn and thus helpfulness that the Practical Life activities encourage provide a platform for you as a parent to get them helping with household tasks that will automatically support their learning and development in the multitude of different ways that we have just been discussing! I’ll tell you things I’ve encouraged children to do that naturally start teaching them about responsibility in life; putting any “dirty laundry” in the linen basket. Folding their clothes and getting their school uniform, (if they’re school aged) plus underwear out ready for the morning. General tidying of their environment and putting things away after they’ve finished using them. Polishing their shoes at the end of the day; the best things here is to get a neutral shoe-polish that you rub straight onto the shoe then polish with a cloth. Also help with various food preparation. 🙂

 

I have observed myself that the order a child learns in Practical Life, from the general layout of the environment to the order within each activity subconsciously enables a child to learn and understand that things don’thappen by magic” and there is a process to everything. This is going to very unconsciously teach them to have more patience when you need to prepare things because they have been very subtly learning this process. This is part of the absolute genius I am referring too! – Learning important life skills without even realising it! 🙂

 

One thing I have noticed with myself is that “hard-worksubconsciously teaches you to be more grateful. This is because you have experienced how much effort is needed to put into achieving “normal everyday tasks” that subconsciously lead steadily to a feeling of appreciation; especially when you receive any help. So if you want to encourage gratitude within your children I would definitely give them responsibility and encourage them to help within the “Family-Team”. Very interestingly as a child I pick up very quickly that my Mum found household chores very tasking, so I lost that early enthusiasm for things like washing. As soon as I began my Montessori training I developed a new enthusiasm for washing-up and other household tasks that I never would have envisaged because I was shown a side to the “activity” that made me appreciate it as oppose to see it as tasking. So what message do you give to your children about “practical household tasks”?? 🙂

 

Before concluding I would also like to point out that I know I have mentioned rules a lot. Children need “guideline rules” so they know what’s expected of them. It enables them to feel safe and secure as they are with an adult(s) that knows howlifeoperates. A lot of very successful people will claim that they are “not rules people”. Well to let you in on a secret; you have to truly understand why certain rules are important to know which ones and how to break them effectively!  There is a lovely quote in my Montessori file that simply states; Emphasis should be laid not on the word practical but on the word life”. (Standing, 1957, Chapter 13). 🙂

 

So to make a simple conclusion it is very apparent how Practical Life activities supports a child’s holistic development and prepares them for life in a multitude of different ways that goes way beyond the simple learning of a basic skill. It is all the indirect benefits and subconscious learning that the child gains from having the opportunity do Practical Life activities regularly that are what make them so Genius in my opinion. It’s so simplistic and effortless because they’re effectively just everyday tasks and that makes it all the more genius. Life has a way of ensuring we learn the necessary skills without having to spend hours of preparation to get there! 🙂

 

For more information please email me at; paula@paulaelizabeth.com or message me through Twitter/ Instagram @FamilyTeamCoach, or message me through Facebook/ LinkedIn at Paula-Elizabeth Jordan, thank-you. 🙂

 

Photo Credit: LePort Schools

 

expert biography

Paula-Elizabeth Jordan is a Montessori trained Child-Development Expert who’s passionate about helping “Family Teams” work together for the benefit of each other, as this is how successful, well-balanced, happy children are raised. She has been Montessori trained for over ten years now and also has a degree in Theology with an Art minor. She is presently writing her own book entitled; “How to Bring up A Successful Human-Being”. www.paulaelizabeth.com

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