Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Pouring water? Spooning Rice?

Questions and concerns regarding the Practical Life area in a Montessori classroom, come in many different forms; My child is in a Montessori school for the academics, not to pour water or spoon rice!  Why is my kindergartener wasting time making hot chocolate, when he should be learning to read?  When is he going to become a Math Genius? Can you tell my kid that they can’t do practical life any more?  No, I can not and trust me you do not want me to!  The practical life area is an essential part of a Montessori classroom, often considered the foundation of Montessori education.  The philosophical goals of Montessori are fully in evidence in this area.
Yes, practical life teaches children the skills needed to function in everyday life.  More, it is through the development of these skills, that they are also developing Order, Concentration, Coordination, and Independence (OCCI), skills that are essential so that the child can successfully attempt academic work.  How can a child tackle a math problem, if they do not appreciate the need for order and sequence?  Without coordination of the fine motor skills, how can a child successfully write a letter?  The ability to concentrate is important, if the child wishes to stay on task and complete and repeat an activity.  If the child does not discover the joy of independence, how will he/she become self confident in his/her own abilities?  Without learning that they can successfully complete a task in varying degrees of difficulty, will they ever feel confident enough to separate from the adult enough to challenge themselves? 

Each activity is especially designed to develop these attributes in children.  Because of the simplicity of design and the careful presentations given to the children, they discover the need to follow a specific sequence to help achieve success.  They come to appreciate the need for order, to prevent chaos.  The practical life area develops the child’s fine motor skills. Through varying degrees of difficulty, the children achieve success in the actual activity, while fine honing their coordination and concentration.  The child becomes self-motivated to achieve success and is stimulated to concentrate on his/her task to achieve self-satisfaction.  Developing simultaneously with these skills is the need for Independence.  The child is becoming self-motivated through the work provided, and develops the need to “do it all by myself!”, realizing his/her potential and developing the need to do things independently. “No, thank you.  I don’t need help! I can pour myself a glass of milk.”  When a child can say this, they have reached the highest degree of success.

Along with the direct aims of OCCI that help prepare the child for success in the other areas of the classroom, actual skills and concepts are introduced and developed in Practical Life.   It is an area of the classroom that is considered an extension of Pre-Math, Pre-Language and Pre-Writing.  Beginning counting skills are introduced in tonging and spooning activities.  Perhaps the child will count the number of balls while concentrating on spooning them into the empty bowls.  An introduction to fractions is taught to the children as they are pouring grains from one pitcher into two or three cups.  Language skills are enhanced by exposing the children to new vocabulary such as in the spooning exercise mentioned above.  The children are introduced to the concepts “full” and “empty”.  The whole sequence for Care of the Environment develops the fine motor skills and coordination needed for writing.  Tonging and tweezing, for example strengthen the muscles in the prehensile grasp needed for the act of writing. 

Practical life is essential in creating a well rounded education where the children become individuals who are secure in their abilities and enjoy the discovery of challenge and learning. So don’t be worried that your child says she spent her day making oatmeal.  Know that she is learning to concentrate and understanding the need to complete a task successfully by following the directions. And know that when she finally goes to the math area she will sit down and be undaunted by the task of adding 2472 + 458.  She will take the time to prepare her work.  She will successfully complete the equation.  She will write down her results and then ask the teacher for another more challenging problem.  All for the very first time!

Joanne Shango is a certified Montessori Teacher and Mom with 20 years experience.

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