PRACTICAL LIFE ACTIVITY
The Practical Life area of the Montessori environment has some basic goals. The activities found in this area of the classroom, provide real life experiences for children. The exercises in Practical Life provide purposeful activity, develop motor control and coordination, develop independence, concentration, and a sense of responsibility. Both large and small muscle coordination and development are involved, helping a child to have control over his movements. The Practical Life exercises are organized int three main areas: care of the person, care of the environment, and grace and courtesy. The dressing frames introduce such skills as buttoning, zipping, snapping, and tying. Other activities such as hand washing, baby doll washing, and manicuring nails are also consider caring for the person. Under the area of, caring for the environment, are exercises such as pouring, spooning, sweeping, cloth folding, and dish washing. Exercises in grace and courtesy consist of things such as walking, sitting, greeting others, manners, and following directions, and control of body through silence games.
I change the shelves regularly as to keep this area interesting for the children. Young children will spend most of their time in Practical Life area, but older children are still drawn these exercises, and new points of interest are discovered by them, especially if they are 'fresh and new'. I will change things on the shelf to enhance unit studies for the month as well as for the season we are experiencing, and so have chosen to give you some ideas in the same way.
"The objects that are used for practical life have no scientific purpose. They are the objects used where a child lives and which he sees employed in his own home, but they are especially made to a size that he can use.
The number of these objects is not determined by our method, but depends upon the resources of a school, and especially upon the length of time that a child spends in the school each day.
If the school has a garden attached to it, the care of the paths, the weeding of plants, or the gathering of ripe fruit, and so on, will make up part of a child's practical occupations. If the daily schedule is very long, dinner will also form a part of them. Of all the exercises of practical life this is the most difficult, exacting and interesting.
It includes such things as setting the table with great care, serving the meals, eating properly, washing the cups and plates, and putting away pots and pans."
The Discovery of the Child p 82, Chap 5
The practical life activities are a fundamentally important part of the Montessori environment. It is these activities that are there to help the child master the skills that he needs in order to become increasingly independent.
Montessori saw that very young children were frequently frustrated in their attempts to do things for themselves and that what they needed was to have specific exercises, as closely linked to real life as possible, that allowed them to master the tasks that they saw going on around them in everyday life.
She recognised that the children needed to refine their muscular abilities and that they had a great interest in the precise movements connected with specific tasks. She also saw that, unlike the adults in their lives, the children were not interested in achieving end results as quickly as possible, but were far more interested in the learning processes.
As a result they would happily repeat exercises again and again until they felt satisfied.
She therefore introduced into her classrooms materials and exercises that allowed the children the maximum possible opportunity to learn how to look after both themselves and the environment. She also realized that the children enjoyed being shown very precisely how to behave socially and she introduced additional specific exercises in Grace and Courtesy.
"In this way these little people who, before, only knew vaguely and half consciously what to do in any particular social situation, now have a clear and vivid idea how to react when the particular occasion arises." (Maria Montessori, her life and works Standing, EM, p 217, Chap XIII).
She was, however, adamant that the children should never be forced into any particular behavior but should come to it through their own desire. "The important thing, therefore, is that he should know how to perform these greetings to parents, relations, friends or strangers, if it comes into his mind to do so. But it is his mind, and upon his own reflection, that the action should have its origin."
(Ibid p 217, Chap XIII)
"Before a child reaches the age of three, the highest form of work and the most enobling that engages him is that of arranging furniture and putting things in order, and it is also the one that calls for the greatest activity."
The Discovery of the Child, p 83, Chap 5
"Anyone who spends time with these children notices that there is a special secret which enables the children to carry out their practical activities with success. It is the precision, the exactness with which the acts must be performed."
Ibid p 85, Chap 5
"When children experience pleasure not only from an activity leading towards a special goal but also in carrying it out exactly in all its details, they open up a whole new area of education for themselves."
Ibid p 85, Chap 5
"Every complex action comprises a series of distinct movements; one act follows the other. The analysis of movements consists in trying to recognize and to carry out exactly these separate and distinct acts... Dressing and undressing oneself, for example, are highly complex acts which we adults, except on special occasions, carry out rather imperfectly."
Ibid p 86, Chap 5
"One single idea runs through every complex activity, and this single idea must be sought as the key to any general problem. There is also a secret key to the perfecting of the most varied types of movements. And this key is balance."
Ibid p 89 Chap 5
"A child who has become master of his acts through long and repeated exercises, and who has been encouraged by the pleasant and interesting activities in which he has been engaged, is a child filled with health and joy and remarkable for his calmness and discipline."
Ibid p 91, Chap 5
"These conquerors of themselves have also attained freedom since they have rid themselves of those many disorderly and unconscious tendencies that necessarily place children under the strict and continuous control of adults."
Ibid p 92, Chap 5
"Repetition is the secret of perfection, and this is why the exercises are connected with the common activities of daily life. If a child does not set a table for a group of people who are really going to eat, if he does not have real brushes for cleaning, and real carpets to sweep whenever they are used, if he does not himself have to wash and dry dishes and glasses he will never attain any real ability."
Ibid p 92, Chap 5
"One detail that is commonly misunderstood is the distinction between teaching a child how he should act, but leaving him free in the practical application of this freedom, and that which is followed in other systems of education, namely, of imposing the will and power of an adult upon the child and thus guiding him in all his actions."
Ibid p 93, Chap 5
"He must use, according to time and circumstances, the many things which he has learned perfectly. But it is he who makes the decision. How he is to use what he has learned is a task for his own conscience, an exercise of his own responsibility. He is thus freed from the greatest of all dangers, that of making an adult responsible for his actions, of condemning his own conscience to a kind of idle slumber."
Ibid p 93, Chap 5
"Through practical exercises of this sort the children develop a true 'social feeling', for they are working in the environment of the community in which they live, without concerning themselves as to whether it is for their own, or for the common good."
Ibid p 95, Chap 5
"Work not only identifies one as an individual, but it also unites him with society, which is bound together by men's labor."
Ibid p 95, Chap 5
"...in point of fact, no other occupations which could be undertaken by the children at this stage (3-5) could be more important for their whole development - physical, mental, and moral - than these 'exercises of practical life' as they are called."
Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work p 213, Chap XIII
"...many teachers still introduce these exercises of practical life to the children without any true understanding of their purpose or psychological significance. Consequently much of their value is lost through lack of proper technique."
Ibid p 213, Chap XIII
"The first thing to realize about these exercises of practical life is that their aim is not a practical one. Emphasis should be laid not on the word 'practical' but on the word 'life'. Their aim (as of all the other occupations presented to the children in their prepared environment) is to assist development."
Ibid p 213, Chap XIII
"It is important to notice... that these are real, not make-believe activities and that they are carried out in a real and not make-believe environment. The child who is washing dusters is washing real dusters because they are dirty; the children who are laying the table are laying a real table with real knives and forks and plates etc, for a real meal - not a doll's table in a doll's house for a doll's tea party. Where you see a child swabbing up water spilt on the floor there has been a real accident, and she is reestablishing order to a real world. This is a matter of great importance..."
Ibid p214, Chap XIII
"The particular exercises of practical life which we should present to the children will vary according to circumstances, local and national. Whatever they may be, however, we can classify them broadly speaking under two heads: (a) those which have to do with care of the child's own person; and (b) those which are concerned with the care of the environment."
Ibid p 215, Chap XIII
"When these exercises have been presented to the children, in the manner indicated... the directress should, after a while, wherever possible, introduce into the action what Montessori calls a 'motive of perfection'."
Ibid p220, Chap XII
The Discovery of the Child - Chapter 5
Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work - Chapter XIII
Chattin-McNichols, J (1979) 'Practical Life in the Elementary School', NAMTA Journal, v4, n2
Boyd, W (1917) From Locke to Montessori, George Harrap & Co London.
Culverwell, E (1913) The Montessori Principles and Practice, G.Bell & Sons, London.
Kilpatrick, W (1915) Montessori Examined, Constable, London.