Last Updated 11 Mar 2020

Practical Life Exercises in Montessori and Development of Social Skills

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“We can imagine an adult’s society organized as constructive society on the same lines as children’s that is on lines with this natural society of cohesion. Attachment to other people is the first stage which brings all men to work for a common ideal. It would be good for men if society could be constructed like this but we cannot command this. It must come from nature. If nature is the basis the construction will be superior, but without this basis there can only be an artificial construction which breaks down easily. " (The Child, Society and the World, p 24, Chap III)

Maria Montessori termed a child as a “Spiritual embryo”, which is in the embryonic stage of the future fully transformed adult. A society is a group of adults, while a group of children can be termed as an embryonic stage of the future society. A group of children is nothing but a school or a place where children spend time together. Hence, Montessori termed social development as possibly the most important element in her schools. Her emphasis on children being allowed the freedom to work alone and to develop concentration did not mean that she underestimated the importance of social development.

Instead what she saw was that it was precisely because the children were allowed to work in such freedom that they then displayed their innate social cohesion. She saw that true discipline and harmony was something that came from within and was not something that could be enforced. "The children then are orderly and have a harmonious discipline. A discipline in which each has different interests. It is different from the discipline of a soldier, with his forced obedience, when we all have to do the same thing at the moment.

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This is a social discipline and it brings people into harmony with each other. " (The Child, Society and the World, p 24, Chap III) Dr. Montessori designed her environment as a miniature of the world outside. She provided social exposures in all angles to a child in her environment. “There is a great sense of community within the Montessori classroom, where children of differing ages work together in an atmosphere of cooperation rather than competitiveness.

There is respect for the environment and for he individuals within it, which comes through experience of freedom within the community. ” (The Essential Montessori: An Introduction to the Woman, the Writings, the Method, and the Movement, Elizibeth. G. Hainstock, Plume publishers-Penguin Group) A child when enters a Montessori environment, will be in a pre-normalized state, with fear, anxiety, confused and other not so well felt condition. Pre-normalized child can be brought to normalized state by giving him purposeful work, through structured environment. What is this purposeful work and how is a structured environment defined?

A child will have certain inner urge for certain kind of the work according to which, she will be prompted to focus her attention on certain elements in her environment, for a certain period of time. These periods are termed as sensitive period. There are six of these sensitive periods Sensitivity to Order: The Child shows the need for order in several ways like seeing things in accustomed places. Learning through their five senses: The child has a natural curiosity to explore things around him, feeling them with his five senses. Sensitivity to small objects:.

The sensitivity to small details holds the child’s attention for an extended period, fostering the ability to focus. Sensitivity to language: The Absorbent Mind of the small child makes an intellectual achievement unconsciously under the guidance of a special “sensitivity” that enables it to select certain sounds from all the other phenomena in the environment. Sensitivity to co-ordination of movement: In this period, the child has an involuntary inclination to perform and repeat movement purely for the sake of gaining greater and more precise control.

Sensitivity to social aspect of life: Children pay special attention to other children of their own age. The work of Sensitive period enables recognizable affections and friendships to develop. In this way, the child learns to be part of a group. Sensitive periods provide children a natural tendency to learn. The stages of learning exist for which there should be corresponding educational environments and appropriately trained teachers to "prepare the environment. " The child learns independently using the components of the environment and the teacher guides and observes the child who chooses his activities.

The teacher is the link between the child and the environment. The learning environment cultivates individualization, freedom of choice, concentration, independence, problem solving abilities, social interaction, interdisciplinary breadth and competency in basic skills. The Montessori classroom is a "living room" for children. Children choose their activities from open shelves with self-correcting materials and work in distinct work areas - on tables or on the mats on the floor. Over a period of time, the children develop into a "normalized community" working with high concentration and few interruptions.

An environment includes the following components:

  1. Practical Life Exercises
  2. Sensorial Education
  3. Language Development
  4. Arithmetic
  5. Cultural Education

Montessori Practical Life Exercises (PLE) is seen as the cornerstone of the Montessori method. These exercises provide the opportunity for purposeful work; assist young children in their development- physically, cognitively, socially and emotionally. PLE are designed to teach children life skills as these help children develop intelligent and be in responsible contact with their surroundings.

These enhance the children's control over their movements, exercising the muscles of the whole body with understanding and willed purposes. The materials given will be familiar, tempting and is food for the sensitivity of the child. “An isolated individual cannot develop his individuality. He must put himself in relationship with his environment and within the reach of the events and the life of his times. ” (http://www. montessori-namta. org/NAMTA/PDF%20files/Outcomes. pdf, Child’s Instinct to Work, Maria Montessori)

A Montessori Practical Life Exercise area is prepared in such a way that, a bit of everything is put into it. This particular area is dynamic and varies from school to school and place to place. It depends on the interest and the creativity of the adult and also reflects the cultural practices of that particular place.

“The objects which we use for practical life, have no scientific significance; they are the objects in use, where the child lives and which he sees being used in his home; they are made, however in sizes adapted to the little man. Montessori Maria, The Discovery of the child, Pg 108, 2006) Evidently, a Montessori environment is a miniature of the society outside, where a child is exposed to the similar things that he finds in the world outside.

The way a child works with these material and with the other kids is nothing but a mini community created inside the Montessori environment. Practical life exercises are designed to teach children life skills. The practical life area is of great importance in the Montessori classroom, yet it is the least standardized since almost all the materials are teacher made or assembled.

The Practical Activities allow the child to try doing what adults all around may be seen doing each and everyday – for example, dressing one-self, cleaning then home, and greeting people. In addition to giving the child an opportunity for self-development, these activities provide an orientation to the customs of the child’s particular society. These precise contents of the Practical Activities should therefore differ from culture to culture. ” (Getmann David, Basic Montessori: learning activities for under-five, St.Martin's Press, 1987)

Principles of the Montessori Practical Life Materials

  • Each material must have a definite purpose and be meaningful to the child
  • The difficulty or the error that the child is to discover and understand must be isolated in a single piece material.
  • The materials progress from simple to more complex in design and usage.
  • The materials are designed to prepare the child indirectly for future learning.
  • The materials begin as concrete expressions of an idea and gradually become more abstract.

Montessori materials are designed for auto-educative and the control of error lies in the materials themselves rather than in the teacher. The control of error guides the child in the use of the materials and permits him to recognize his own mistakes. Addition to the above principle, the following points must be considered when preparing the practical life exercises.

  • Materials are kept together in a small basket or on a tray. It should be grouped and kept together according to the level of development to which they correspond. They must be taken from and returned to its original place.
  • Materials are kept within their reach.
  • Materials must be of the right size, weight, clean and intact.
  • Materials are identical among themselves with exception of the variable quality which they possess.
  • Materials must be attractive in colour, brightness and proportion
  • Materials should be limited in quantity. “Te teacher superintends, it is true: but it is things of various kinds, which call to children of various ages.

Truly the brilliance, the colours, the beauty of gaily decorated objects are none other than voices, which call the attention of the child to themselves and urge him to do something. Those objects possess an eloquence which no mistress can ever attain to. “Take me” they say “See that I am not damaged, put me in my place. ” And the action carried out at the instigation of things gives the child that lively satisfaction, that access of energy, which prepares him for the more difficult work of intellectual development. (Maria Montessori, The Discovery of the Child, pg 110)

Practical Life Exercises are meant to resemble everyday activities and all materials will be familiar, real, breakable, and functional. The materials will also be related to the child’s time and culture. In order to allow the child to fully finish the exercise and to therefore finish the full cycle of the activity, the material will be complete. In the environment, the Directress may want to color code the materials as well as arrange the materials based on difficulties in order to facilitate the classification and arrangements of the work by the children.

The attractiveness will also be at utmost importance as Montessori believed that the child must be offered what is most beautiful and pleasing to the eye so as to help the child enter into a “more refined and subtle world”. Activities: All the activities given will have certain Direct aims and certain Indirect aims. Direct aims are those, where the child learns to do the particular activity and the purpose of the activity is served. Where as indirect aims are those, where child learns many more things from the activity. There are four major categories in Practical Life Exercises. They are 1.

Exercises that help in the development of Motor skills:

  1. Rolling and unrolling: The child will be presented to roll and unroll different types of mats- this helps him in being independent and also social skill of winding up and completing a the full job is indirectly presented
  2. Carrying: Activities like carrying the mat, chair, table and tray are presented to the child. The direct aims of these activities are, development of motor skills where as the indirect aims are, the child is made to learn social skills like carrying things without hurting others, without making much noise and with graceful movements.These social skills are indirectly presented to the children through these activities.
  3. Spooning: Here, the child learns to transfer beans from one bowl to another, one bowl to two equal bowls, to two unequal bowls, to three equal bowls, to three unequal bowls and to another identical bowl with the indicator line. The child learns to transfer beans but the social skills like holding the spoon gracefully, transferring it without spilling much and without making much noise. This gives the child confidence to be independent in the school, at home and also at the social gatherings
  4. Dry Pouring: Presentations given here are pouring the dry beans from one jug to another jug, bowls in the same manner as said above. Here the child learns the pouring of dry beans along with the social skills of holding a jug, carrying the jug with bowls, pouring things without making much noise and with minimum spilling.
  5. Wet Pouring: Here again the child will be doing the same activities as above but with the liquid and funneling also will be introduced. Child will be presented with and apron to wear and a plastic mat to work on, which gives him an idea of difference between the dry and the wet activity. Wearing an apron and the responsibility of wiping the spilt liquid enhances his independence and an awareness of the environment this increases his confidence and also owning thre responsibility.
  6. Transferring, Pegging and Folding: Child will be exposed to things like tweezers, tongs, chop sticks, etc, and also to sorting and differentiating. Pegging with paper clips, cloth clips and peg board are also introduced. The child’s social skills of using these objects in a graceful manner are enhanced. The child learns to unfold and fold the napkins in five different ways. The napkins are unfolded and folded with gentleness of touch and the evenness of pressure. This gives the child an exposure to the social skills like folding and unfolding the different variety of cloths.
  7. Exercises for the care for the environment: The activities like Sweeping, Opening and closing of different types of bottles, boxes, unlocking and locking locks, latches etc, treading the bead, tearing and cutting papers, polishing, etc are presented. These activities help the child in dealing with the above-mentioned things, so that his ability to be independent is enhanced.
  8. Exercises for the care for self: The child is thought washing his hands, face etc, also the different dressing frames are given to work with so that he can be self dependent. He can be independent enough to tie his own bow, button his own shirt, tie his own lace and zip and unzip his bag by himself.
  9. Exercises to develop social grace and courtesy: The child is thought to greet, interrupt, invite and offer a seat, a glass of water, scissors, pen, and other day to day useful items. Children are made to play silence game, where their love towards silence is discovered.

Waling on the line enhances the balance and the grace in walking. Apart form these activities; any activity that the directress feels appropriate is also given. The activities and the materials thus help the child in the overall development also the way, child interacts with the other children and adult inside the environment is also favorable for his the social development. Kids in the Montessori environment are vertical grouped where children of different ages are put together. There will be no uniformity in their age-wise activities.

This gives them an experience of diversification, but in a single environment. The purpose behind keeping only one set of each activity in a Montessori environment is also to make the children work as a social group. Any child, who wants to work with the material, will have to wait if it is being used by some other child. This builds a concept of co-existence. Dr. Montessori many times illustrated that, in her environment children work as a group rather as an individual. She gives an instance for this. Once in her environment, children heard the sound of some precession and rushed to the window to watch it.

Only one boy who was working with some material could not wind up so fast and go with them. His eyes were filled with tears, seeing which all the other kids rushed to him and helped him in winding up and all of them enjoyed the show together. This shows that in a Montessori school even though the kids work individually, they exist as a group or a community and work together for the good of the whole. This is so evident that the child in a Montessori environment is a microcosm of the society. And the reality of this society lies in unity and coherence, respect and love.

Children learn to use the knowledge they have gained in an appropriate way in an appropriate environment. Dr. Montessori says “One ought to each everything, one ought to connect everything with life, but there ought not to be suppressed, by directing them ourselves one y one, the action which children have learnt to carry out and to place in practical life. This assigning of their proper places to action is one of the most important things which the child has to do. ” (Maria Montessori, The Discovery of the Child, Pg 120)

Conclusion: The practical life exercises are the beginning activities which improve motor control, eye hand coordination and concentration. The practical life exercises include environment care, pouring, polishing, washing, and serving. Children love these Practical Life Exercises and are also taught good work habits by being encouraged to complete the whole task, see that all materials needed are arranged in order, and make sure the entire exercise is available for use by the next child. Teaching the children to be thoughtful of the rights of other children, they are prepared for a successful citizenship and career.

The practical life activities contribute invaluably to the development of the whole person with inner discipline, self direction and a high degree of concentration. ” http://montessoriclc. net/education/practical-life/ Thus the Practical Life Exercises not only develops the child’s academic ability but also enhances the child’s social ability. The child in a Montessori environment is not isolated with the syllabus but he is prepared to face the society outside, exposed to the materials and the environment similar to what he finds out side the school.

With these activities child is given the concept of hard work, self help and owning the responsibility and above all they will know how and when to apply what they have learnt. The children own their environment and take up the responsibility of setting it and cleaning it up. They get united with children of different age groups and through these activities and the concept of coherence, love and unity is established. “A society seems to be more united by the absorbent mind than does by the conscious mind.

The manner of its construction is observable and may be compared to the work of the cells in the growth of an organism. It seems clear that society goes through an embryonic phase which we can follow among little children in the course of their development. It is interesting to see how, little by little, these become aware of forming a community which behaves as such. They come to feel part of a group to which their activity contributes. And not only do they begin to take an interest in this, but work on it profoundly, as one may say, in their hearts.

Once they have reached this level, the children no longer at thoughtlessly, but put the group first and try to benefit for its benefit. This unity born among children, which is produced by a spontaneous need, directed by an unconscious power, and vitalized by a social spirit, is a phenomenon needing a name, and I call it ‘cohesion in the social unit’. ” (Mari Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, Pg 240) Dr. Montessori always believed in a healthy society not only with intellectual richness but also with a lot of harmony, peace, unity and love.

In her opinion, the first step in building a healthy society is building a harmonious and lovable environment in the schools. Thus she designed her environment as a miniature of the society and the child in the environment as a microcosm of the whole society who represents the community or the world he lives in, who co-exists with the people around, owns the responsibility of protecting the world he live in, who moves forward coherently and with a lot of love and respect to each other.

Every man in a boat race rows his hardest for the boat, knowing the full well that this will bring him neither personal glory nor special reward. If this become the rule in every social undertaking, from these which embrace the whole country down to a smallest industrial console and if all were moved by the wish to bring honor to his group, rather than to himself, then the whole human family will be reborn.

This integration of individual with his group must be cultivated in the schools” (Maria Montessori, The Absorbent mind, Pg 243) Bibliography

  1. |Sl. no |Name of the author |Name of the book |Publication and year | |1. |Montessori Maria |The Child Society and the World |Montessori- Pierson Publishing Company,| | | | |2008 | |
  2. Montessori Maria |The Absorbent Mind |Kalakshetra Publications, | | | | |1949 | |
  3. |Montessori Maria |The Discovery of the Child |Kalakshetra Publications, | | | | |1949 | |
  4. Hainstock. G. Elizibeth |The Essential Montessori: An Introduction to |Clio press, Oxford, England, 1989 | | | |the Woman, the Writings, the Method, and the | | | | |Movement | | |
  5. Getmann David |Basic Montessori: learning activities for |St. Martin's Press, 1987 | | | |under-five | | Websites (http://www. montessori-namta. org/NAMTA/PDF%20files/Outcomes. pdf, Child’s Instinct to Work, Maria Montessori) http://montessoriclc. net/education/practical-life/
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