In this essay I will be discussing the importance and different aspects of the practical life area in a Montessori classroom. Children are naturally interested in activities they have witnessed, therefore Doctor Maria Montessori began using what she called “practical life exercises” to allow the child to do activities of daily life and therefore adapt themselves in their society. Doctor Maria Montessori developed her philosophy of education based upon actual observations of children; she observed that children prefer work rather than play. It is through work that children obtain independence, order, concentration and normalization. Practical life exercises are recognized to be the heart of Montessori education. In the first six years a child becomes a full member of his or her particular culture and family group absorbing language, attitudes, manners and values of those in which he or she comes into daily contact with. Children feel comfortable and safe when they find a secure and lovable environment, a child develops best if they are in an environment full of affection, love, caring and support. Doctor Maria Montessori in the Absorbent Mind writes “the hands are instruments of man’s intelligence”.
It is only through the practice of movement that a child can learn and develop, for this reason Doctor Maria Montessori decided to incorporate the area of practical life into her classroom as this is where the practice begins (mymontessorimoments). Through the exercises of practical life the child learns to adapt to his or her environment, learns self-control, sees themselves as part of a society and most importantly grow intellectually through working with his or her hands and master the skills needed for his or her future. “Watching a child makes it obvious that the development of his mind comes through his movements” (Montessori, 1995).
There are many links between the home and the school in the area of practical life. It is the first area introduced to the child in the classroom. Maria Montessori stated “Children feel a special interest for those things already rendered to them in the earlier period” (Montessori, 1995). The activities in the classroom are familiar to the child as many of them are done at home. The child can therefore settle in easily and master the skills with confidence while learning co-ordination of movement and relate back to past experiences at home (www.montmet.co.za). In an ideal situation practical life would be located near the entrance to the classroom, as a link between home and school as well as a foundation for the curriculum. The area should be attractive containing flowers, paintings, vases etc to draw the child to the practical life area.
The area of practical life assists in the growth and development of the child’s intellect and concentration and will also help the child develop an orderly way of thinking (www.sevencounties.org). Practical life sparks respect and love for any work, helps the child to perform the activities of daily life with joy, skill, and grace through which he or she is aiming for perfection. Exercises in practical life are just that, they are exercises so the child can learn how to do living activities in a purposeful way. The purpose and aim of practical life is to help the child gain control in the coordination of his or her movement, and help the child to gain independence and adapt to his or her surroundings. It is therefore important to “Teach teaching, not correcting” (quotes/Maria_Montessori) “No one can be free unless he is independent.
Therefore, the first active manifestation of the child’s individual liberty must be so guided that through the activity he may arrive at independence” (quotes/Maria_Montessori). Practical life helps the child gain control of his or her movement particularly the development of the hand`s coordination. The fine muscles coordination is linked to the child`s conceptual development. As Doctor Maria Montessori quoted ”The human hand allows the mind to reveal itself (quotes/Maria_Montessori). Practical life activities help the child to gain independence and enable the child to associate his or her own physical, psychic, and moral needs. The practical life area contains an orderly arrangement of exercises involving familiar objects and the activities of daily life. These will be things that the children have already seen their parents or family members doing that the child wishes to imitate.
For example: pouring, spooning, various cleaning exercises and others. The exercises are ordered, with earlier exercises providing a foundation and all the skills needed for the more advanced activities to follow. The organisation of the area helps children feel secure, familiarize themselves in the classroom, and develop the inner order necessary for clear and rational thought. Practical life exercises fall under four basic categories: care of the person, care of the environment, analysis of movement and grace and courtesy. Grace and courtesy provides the child with the absolute basics such as rolling out a mat, sitting on a chair, and how to ask the directress for assistance while busy with another child. This foundation provides the skills in order for the child to participate in classroom life and complete each activity.
Analysis of movement promotes a sense of accomplishment and self-esteem through activities that are real, precise, and practical such as spooning or pouring which encourages motor skills. Care of the person includes skills necessary for dressing independently such as zipping, buttoning, and tying. The dressing frames in the classroom provide the child the opportunity to practice these skills, the children are also encouraged to try zip, button or tie their own coats shoes etc. Care of the environment includes teaching responsibility of the world around them. The children scrub chairs, wash dishes, care for plants and help feed the animals if there are any in their environment.
“Therefore, the first active manifestations of the child’s individual liberty must be so guided that through this activity he may arrive at independence” (Montessori, The advanced Montessori Method, 2010).Montessori learning environments are prepared to allow children to be socially and intellectually independent. Montessori learning materials are designed to capture the child’s interest and attention and to encourage independent use. When children work with the Montessori materials, they perfect their movements as well prepare themselves for learning educational knowledge. All exercises reflect the environment in which the child lives, all activities use real tools and are physically proportioned in order to help the children develop their motor skills and perfect precise movements.
All Montessori equipment is attractive as experiencing beauty lays the foundation of self-appreciation. All children want to be independent, as adults we become used to doing everything for them, it is hard to let go of control. But, we need to feed their desire for independence. Children learn important life skills as they handle materials in practical life. Even more important is the confidence that the child gains when he or she achieves a new goal. “Help me to do it by myself” (Montessori, Secret ofChildhood, 1996).
Maria Montessori believed in educating the whole being and not just the intelligence of a child. Before the start of western education and the school system as we know it today, all children actually learnt from birth to adulthood were these same practical life activities, and this was more or less all they needed to function well in their society. The responsibility of the parent is to help the child learn about the environment, community and society they live in so that the child can grow up into a fully functional member of the community (MontessoriStudents). It is therefore important that children learn how to not only dress themselves but also how to keep their surroundings clean, how to cook and how to behave and interact with others around them.
So often today you find young parents are too busy to spend adequate time with their children in order to teach them basic life skills, instead you find young parents more concerned on their child’s academic performance. The Montessori curriculum can make up for this shortfall that unfortunately occurs due to our busy lifestyles. Montessori education can ensure that the child is given the right aids to life through the practical life exercises.
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