Practical Life Exercises and Child Development
If you were to ask Montessori teachers which part of “curriculum” is the most important, my guess is most teachers would say Practical Life. Practical Life is the foundation for everything that follows in a Montessori classroom.
It is also the one area of the classroom that does not require special materials and tools (other than adjustments for size). The materials used are the easily found in your own home, because the activities are the very same ones we partake in every day in our homes– things like sweeping, washing dishes, folding laundry, combing our hair, getting dressed.Children already want to do these things when they see adults doing them– they want to be part of our world, they want to feel grown up and important. We then simply alter the materials and environment so it suits their smaller size, and let them go to work! The genius of the Practical Life exercises is two-fold: You are teaching the child how to care for himself and his environment, thus giving him independence (doesn’t have to rely on an adult to tie his shoelaces or comb his hair) and a sense of pride at being able to do these things all by himself.The exercises are practice for the child’s fine and gross motor skills, allowing him to become better coordinated and learn how better to control and use his own body.
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This is an indirect preparation for later, more complex exercises and activities that require fine motor control and concentration. Practical Life exercises teach children to care for themselves, for others, and for the environment.
They involve a wide variety of activities such as carrying objects, walking, polishing, sweeping, dusting, lacing, mainly activities that are done in day to day living.It is divided into four major areas namely: movement, care of self, care of environment, and grace and courtesy. These activities are Montessori’s response to the child’s need for movement, order, independence, among many others; they are basic activities that enable the child to explore his environment and eventually make him one with it. Through practical life exercises, he learns to refine his movements, becomes conscious of his body and of what his body can do. He learns how to move and act in a socially accepted manner, thus helping him in his task of adaptation.He learns the ways of social living and becomes comfortable and confident in his society. Children are naturally interested in activities they have witnessed.
Therefore, Dr. Montessori began using what she called “Practical Life Exercises” to allow the child to do activities of daily life and therefore adapt and orientate himself in his society. Practical Life helps children to develop many skills including order, concentration, coordination and independence. Order – All practical life activities help the child develop a sense of order – some more than others.For example, sorting activities will help the child develop his sense of order as he learns to organize the materials into groups. Other activities like transferring or spooning will enable the child to develop order by repetition of the exercise and analyzing the steps to get one material or liquid from one container to another. Concentration – The transferring and spooning exercise requires the child to concentrate as he empties one container ensuring that there are no more beans or liquids left.
The preliminary activities tend to be with materials that are larger and with fewer steps.As the child is successful with the preliminary exercise he will move on to do more detailed and lengthy practical life activites. Montessori believed strongly in having an isolation of difficulty in her activities. This way children would not be distracted by external stimuli which might disrupt their learning process. By incorporating an isolation of difficulty the child will have better success in concentration of the task at hand. Coordination – All of the exercises will help the child with coordination. Transferring requires that a child learn how to hold a spoon or pour from one container to the next.
The cutting exercises will enable the child to master control of her hand movements in order to successfully cut a piece of paper. Walking the line will help the child to learn how to coordinate his own movements as he puts one foot carefully in front of the other. The child’s coordination is challenged further when holding a bell or a container full of water to make sure that the ball does not sound or the water does not spill while walking. Independence – Practical life exercises are designed to aid the child in developing a feeling of independence and success.The materials range in difficulty and as the child works from the simpler activities to the more difficult ones he will feels a sense of accomplishment and confidence. “If teaching is to be effective with young children, it must assist them to advance on the way of independence..
. We must help them to learn how to walk without assistance, to run, to go up and down stairs, to pick up fallen objects, to dress and undress, to wash themselves, to express their needs in a way that is clearly understood, and to attempt to satisfy their desires through their own efforts.All this is part of an education for independence. ” (Maria Montessori, The Discovery of the Child, pg. 57) During the child’s sensitive period between birth and 6, the child is constructing the inner building blocks of his person. It is therefore important for the child to participate in activities to prepare him for his environment, that allow him to grow independently and use his motor skills, as well as allow the child to analyze difficulties he may have in the exercise and problem solve successfully.Montessori also saw the child’s need for order, repetition, and succession in movements.
Practical Life Exercises also helps to aid the child to develop his coordination in movement, his balance and his gracefulness in his environment as well as his need to develop the power of being silent. The Practical Life exercises act as a link between the home environment and school. It is in this area of the classroom that the child learns self-care, care for their surroundings, control of movement, and development of social skills.Every material holds a concrete concept and allows the child to see that there is a process and order to everything in the room. Many children at this age have the common phrase “I can do it by myself! ” The Practical Life area gives the child the skills they need (such as zipping their coat, cutting an apple, sweeping up messes, etc. ) to be independent. These exercises also teach the child to complete a task following a step-by-step procedure.
This sequential ordering of tasks prepares him for the logical task that awaits him in mathematics.Likewise, activities in these areas are presented in isolation in order to help the child focus his attention only on a particular task. Practical life exercises also gives them a feeling of accomplishment. Simple things like cleaning/dusting a table, folding napkins, washing hands by themselfes; just doing things by themselves is very fulfilling. Exercises of practical life fixes the wandering mind of a child. Movement is the secret of holding child’s attention. The child’s attention cannot be captured by a colour or by words alone.
A series of movements revolving around these objects is the best way to bring their attention to it. Education of a child is thus tied up to his movements. Full body locomotion is the key to achieve complete concentration. SENSORIAL ACTIVITIES : The next area in the Montessori classroom is Sensorial. Children live in a world of senses and everything in their environment comes to them through their senses. Through sight, touch, sound, taste, and smell, the sensorial materials enable the children to clarify, classify and comprehend their world.This area of the classroom acts as a bridge between Practical Life and academics.
While the materials in the sensorial area are concrete materials, they hold more abstract concepts that really prepare them for the more abstract learning that takes place in Math, Language, and Culture. For example – tracing a sandpaper letter, “a”, with her finger, a child not only sounds out the symbol “a”, but also feels it. This is indirectly preparing the child for both reading and writing. Sensorial Materials provide “training of the senses”. They teach children bout color, shape, sound, dimension, surface, texture, weight, temperature and form. It is through contact and exploration of the environment that the child acquires his store of knowledge and ideas that are necessary for his functioning in society. He has a need to touch, to explore and manipulate.
He acquires this mass of ideas, impressions and information and needs to establish a certain order from this chaos; to categorize, classify and catalogue all this information. The sensorial materials provide the child an opportunity to rediscover his environment in a more precise and organized manner.The exercises will not improve the senses but rather refine their use. Sensorial materials serve as aids to a child’s development. The training of the senses provides a solid foundation for intellectual training. A more accurate and refined perception of the environment certainly helps the child adapt better to his environment. The sensorial materials then are important tools to the education of the child.
The purpose and aim of Sensorial work is for the child to acquire clear, conscious, information and to be able to then make classifications in his environment.Montessori believed that sensorial experiences began at birth. Through his senses, the child studies his environment. Through this study, the child then begins to understand his environment. The child, to Montessori, is a “sensorial explorer”. Through work with the sensorial materials, the child is given the keys to classifying the things around him, which leads to the child making his own experiences in his environment. Through the classification, the child is also offered the first steps in organizing his intelligence, which then leads to his adapting to his environment.