Practical Life the Montessori Way – Montessori Education Week 2018
“Any child who is self-sufficient, who can tie his shoes, dress or undress himself, reflects in his joy and sense of achievement, the image of human dignity which is derived from a sense of independence.” Maria Montessori
Also, there is emphasis on learning the grace and courtesy of our community and our society. This begins as learning how to greet one another, how to offer help, or how to ask someone to play. As the child gets older this also includes learning about being part of a group, collaboration, and conflict resolution.
“The child begins to become conscious of right and wrong, this not only as regards to his own actions, but also the actions of others…..moral consciousness is being formed and this leads later to the social sense." Maria Montessori
I hope you enjoy a glimpse into the lessons of practical life in the toddler, primary and elementary communities and gain an understanding of why these life skills are such an important part of the children’s development and their future.
"Manners are the lubricating oil of an organization. It’s a law of nature that two moving bodies in contact with each other create friction. This is as true for human beings as it is for inanimate objects. Manners—simple things like saying “please” and “thank you” and knowing a person’s name or asking after her family—enable two people to work together whether they like each other or not. Bright people, especially bright young people, do not understand this. If analysis shows that someone’s brilliant work fails again and again as soon as cooperation from others is required, it’s probably a lack of courtesy—that is, a lack of manners." “Managing Oneself” by Peter Drucker
“Toddler preparing for the day – hanging her items in her cubby, first the coat and then the backpack”
“Primary child putting her coat on a hanger to prepare for the day”
“Older child helping a younger child with the Pink Tower”
“Elementary Business Bagel Breakfast in action”
Day 2 – Toddler Practical Life
What is Practical Life? In the toddler community these are activities done on a daily basis to care for ourselves or others, and to contribute to the community. A young child is cared for from the time he is born. He is dressed, bathed, and fed. As a child grows he wants to do these care of self-activities by himself. In the classroom the child has these opportunities. He is presented with lessons on wiping his nose, washing his hands, putting on his own boots, and more. Parents may have seen different frames in the classrooms like the zipping and the buttoning frame. These are practice activities to help the child actually button and zip their own clothes. One of the first things a child learns in the toddler room is to put his coat on by flipping it. This is a practical life activity.
Practical life has four groups in the classroom community.
1) Care of self was explained above.
2) Grace and courtesy is used on a daily basis in all the classrooms at Montessori Radmoor but in the toddler room it isn’t presented as a lesson. The adults in the classroom model it every day by saying thank you or please, by using controlled movements, and by being respectful to everyone.
3) Care of environment is used to help others in the classroom, it teaches children to respect the space they work in, it gives them a sense of being a part of a community, and it aids in independence. The best part is that toddlers love to help. Here are some activities in the classroom: mopping, sweeping, dusting, watering plants, cleaning glass, mirror polishing, shoe cleaning, flower arranging, dish washing, and hanging up cloths.
4) Movement of objects and furniture is something toddlers love to do. It helps with gross motor skills and gives them a chance to help out in the classroom.
All the work in a Montessori classroom has a purpose. The activities used throughout the toddler room aid gross and fine motor development, encourage repetition which helps children learn, aids in self-confidence, aids in language, helps with sequencing, and helps each child adapt to his culture. With food preparation children use all of the skills from the four groups in practical life. They have to wash their hands before preparing food, they are working to make something for the whole class, they have to take turns and work together, they may have to move objects like bowls or carry things to the compost bowl. Fine and large motor skills are being used.
When giving a practical life lesson it is important to break the lesson down into steps. This helps the child isolate part of the work and practice that part. When a child is missing a step the teacher could make that step a point of interest while representing that lesson. Here is an example of a practical life activity:
Wiping and drying a table
Invite the child to wipe the table.
Show the child how to carry the sponge over to the table.
Let the child carry the sponge over.
Show the child how to wipe the table using the same motion. Have the child take the sponge back.
Have the child bring a drying mitt over to the table.
Show the child how to dry using a different motion from wiping.
Let the child have a turn.
When the child is done he may replace the soiled mitt for a new one.
It is easier for a child to see the steps of a practical life activity if broken down instead of grabbing a random cloth and begin wiping. This way a child can slow his movements and work on his skills.
Day 3 – Primary Practical Life Work Provides Base of Learning
The exercises of Practical life, or daily living exercises, are works that “involve simple and precise tasks, which the young child has already observed adults perform in his home environment”, and wishes to do for himself (Montessori- A Modern Approach, Paula Polk Lillard). The exercises emphasize the child’s whole development- physical, mental and moral.
Practical life is a foundation of learning in the Montessori classroom and is the child’s bridge to higher learning. It is the foundation on which many other lessons build. The performance and mastery of the incorporated works prepare the child to learn the alphabet and numbers, and by extension, language arts and arithmetic. This is the purpose of works being performed from left to right/ top to bottom (i.e. pouring, scooping, transferring, and mat rolling), and the particular sequencing of other more advanced works (i.e. polishing)- this mirrors the structure by which reading/writing and arithmetic are arranged in Western culture.
Maria Montessori regarded “Grace and Courtesy” lessons as a basic human need of 3-6 year olds and incorporated them into her Practical Life curriculum. The lessons are presented at a time when the child is most apt to “pick up and fix” good manners. Precise lessons on how to behave or act in any given situation are taught, for example, greeting people, excusing oneself and interrupting. By doing so, we “give them the means to be master of their own actions, and of the situation when and as it occurs.” It is important not to expect anything from the child unless you have shown them; it is not enough to give verbal explanations.
Lessons in “Grace and Courtesy” are often presented to a group of children. After the lesson, the child is not persecuted or constantly reminded to practice the manners. The ideal is for the child to respond with manners that reflect an inner desire for cooperation and kindness. The Practical life lessons in grace and courtesy become real when adults serve as models, practicing courtesies among themselves. A common technique for presenting Grace and Courtesy lessons is to isolate a particular social skill or situation and present it in the form of a dramatization. The child can then practice their skill of observation and focus on the reality of the skill and its usefulness in everyday life.
Increasing Independence through Self Care
Another hallmark of Montessori education is the idea of “Care of Self.”
In a Montessori classroom, for example, children learn to hang up their own coats and practice using a zipper, which requires a degree of fine motor skills that become easier and more refined with practice and age. With each “try,” the child becomes more likely to achieve this milestone on his own.
This transition or arrival in the classroom allows the children to enter the classroom and greet classmates and then learn to take care of themselves. This fosters independence.
Each child also removes his outdoor shoes or boots when he comes into the classroom environment. He takes the responsibility to put those shoes or boots where they need to go, and then put on the indoor shoes he has in his cubby. A child learning the intricacies of dressing will develop that confidence to explore his world further.
Caring for the Environment helps beautify our world
When we look at the world around us, the need to care for it comes naturally, as does the need to care for ourselves.
Making our world a more beautiful place takes on many different focuses. It’s learning to wash dishes so that the room is cleaner. It’s picking up trash on the playground and in the classroom, and disposing of it properly. Children learn to recycle items like paper and boxes in order to preserve our planet’s resources.
Whether it’s working in a greenhouse, pulling weeds and watering plants, or sweeping the floors of the classroom, Montessori students seem to understand what Maria Montessori described as transforming the child into the world.
The lessons children learn to care for our planet will last a lifetime.
Day 4 –Lower Elementary
Practical Life in an Elementary Environment has the same focus of care of self, care of environment and a large focus on care of others and the community.
One way we support the children in practical life in the elementary community is helping the children problem solve and communicate. The elementary child is very focused on social justice and what is right and wrong; they are trying to find themselves within their community and the role they need to play. With all of this deciphering where they belong and what is right and what is wrong, you can imagine the conflicts that arise. We have a variety of tools that we teach the children to help them solve these problems on their own.
One tool we teach the children is using an “I-message”. This sounds like “I feel_________ when/ because ________AND I WISH________”. I’ve emphasized the “I wish” portion because that is part of the executive functioning of deciding what you would like to see happen instead, so the child is able to express their desired outcome and communicate that to their classmate.
Another tool we use in the elementary community is called The Wheel of Choice. This is used when the children have a problem but aren’t quite sure how to handle it. The Wheel of Choice consists of seven different solutions they could try to solve their problem.
-Cool Off: Count to ten
-Put it on the Class Meeting Agenda
-Tell them to stop
-Take Turns Talking
-Use an I-message
Lastly, but not the last tool we use, is the class meeting. Our class meeting is when the students come together to help each other solve problems. Our meetings main objective is to solve problems through discussion and brainstorming. The agenda is created by students putting their problems in “the keeper of the problems jar”. During the meeting, the children discuss the problems openly and brainstorm solutions for the problem. It is through this process that the students learn from the inside out.
We have our class meeting three days a week for about 20-30 minutes. The skills developed from this process include: listening, brainstorming, problem solving, mutual respect, the value of cooling off before solving a problem, cooperation, accountability in a safe environment, how to choose solutions that are respectful to everyone concerned, social interest, and….that mistakes are wonderful opportunities to learn
The Latin root of the word education is educate, which means “to draw forth”. When adults “teach” by “drawing forth” students feel capable, belonging and significance, and are more motivated to follow the solutions they help create. The Class Meeting is a safe place to solve problems because the focus of the meeting is on taking responsibility and solving problems: children are never in trouble, never receive consequences and are always focused on solutions.
Day 5 –Upper Elementary
As we look at the application of practical life skills with upper elementary children, besides the growing responsibilities of self-care and respect for yourself and others in the environment, children experience the practical application of the skills acquired in various subject areas and how to apply them to everyday life.
Did you ever wonder why you had to do math in elementary? Or, math in any class all the way through school? In the elementary years the math that we use every day in our lives is the cornerstone of elementary exploration of mathematics: practical math. A wonderful example of this application is the bagel breakfast.
When organizing the bagel breakfast, the students have to plan for the entire month the different tasks that are involved. Tasks include making copies for the bagel orders, signing up students for the various jobs, speaking to a teacher as to when an appropriate time would be to do these tasks, how to organize groups for set up the day before.
Students also meet with a parent volunteer who helps them analyze the business in a mathematical sense. What are the average sales of the various types of bagels? What is cost and profit, how do we plan so that we are selling bagels at a profit instead of at cost? How much is it for coffee, juice, cream cheese? How do you figure out how much we should sell these items for, as well as, being able to figure into the cost what are the things we purchase that we do not charge money to the customer. Such as cups, napkins, bags and customer service issues like giving someone a replacement bagel if theirs falls on the floor?
All in all, running a business is a great way to practice math skills while realizing there is a practical aspect and realization that these skills are important in daily life.
-Planning for Bagel Breakfast -Taking orders - Slicing and serving - Counting money and preparing for the next order