From the vantage point of a doctoral student in education leadership and policy, as well as a teacher at a public Montessori, I'm learning and sharing as I go. This is my space to explore the child's interior life, our discoveries as educators, and work of learning together.
Friday, June 27, 2014
Summary of The Montessori Exercises of Practical Life in the Primary Classroom
The need urging
children to complete their irresistible tasks is theirhorme, as
Montessori called it. Without having the freedom to complete their exercises,
the child will be deviated in their development. If we know that the child has
sensitive periods and needs for the elementary movements, care of self, care of the environment, activities for social behavior,
and coordination of movement-- we must
observe, protect, stimulate, and nourish them by preparing the
environment and gathering the means of development, linking the two as the
maintainer and developer of greater challenges in presentations. We observe and identify the child's needs and determine
the exact activity which would best suit the child's needs at the right time.
The materials have
to be physically and psychologically
proportionate, aesthetically pleasing, and functional. The items are
critically color-coded, as a complete set
in that activity. It was only when we got to the complexity of flower arranging
that the child had to gather materials for the activity, for the first time.
The tools should be of good quality and local to that culture and environment,
made of natural materials, and available within their reach. The display,
furthermore, is sequential from easy to complex, and within the materials, they
are ordered according to use. All the pouring goes together; all the spooning
goes together; all the things for the care of the environment goes together;
all the things for the elementary movements go together. There are also multiple sets of each kinds of the initial
activities, although they will each have a slightly
different challenge. Every object has a fixed place, and the activity
must be found in that place.
The tools from the
exercises of practical life must be separate from the objects of practical
life, put together and ready-- that is, the brass bowl is decorative in the
classroom, until the child is ready to polish. It is the child's own
application-- what needs polishing? What needs dusting? This is what Maria
Montessori calls "the voices of things" beckoning, "Come take
care of me." We talked about maintaining those tools according to the
order of completion. If the child is capable of more, we are adding more
complex challenges to the materials. If they have the spooning skill down, they
can practice it more seriously, in the real-life applications, to keep pace
with the capacities of the children.
All of the teacher's
behavior must be conducted in the classroom very carefully to be part of the
environment. We need to practice occupying a smaller space, sitting in child's
furniture, and practicing the child's activities until their movements, to model
for them in lessons, become our second nature. Only then can we offer the
direct presentations. As key principles, we show them our analysis of movement, not speaking while we
model the precise, sequential movements for the activities. We are breaking
down the movements, with an infinitesimal pause between each of the precise
movements. This shows the child that every action is comprised of a series of actions,
and those actions go in a certain order, the sequence of movements that results
in some outcome.
We show the children
the points of interest that show the
children that they are performing the activity to success. At the end, we leave
the children with a criteria of perfection,
showing them what it looks like when it is done well. Then, the child can keep
repeating the activity with that criteria in mind, leading to concentration,
analysis, and the perfection of the will.
How do we ensure freedom in the classroom? The children can
chose any activity in the classroom that has been presented to them. Only then
can intelligence guide the choice. After completing it, the child can return it
to the place where she found it, ready for the next child. She can work with it
as long as she needs to, repeating it as often as she desires, returning to it
whenever she feels the need to do so. The child also had the freedom to ask for
the presentation or the repeat of the presentation if something catches her
interest. While the child is enjoying this freedom, the teacher is observing
the development of the child-- do they need a bigger challenge? What aspect is
presenting the challenge? Does she need more presentation? More repetition? Is
she including more things to give her more challenges? If we see misuse, we can
assess that the materials are not meeting the developmental need at that time.
We are careful in the preparation of the environment, giving the child the
freedom to repeat the activity.
If we are going to
support the child's development, we cannot be spending all day long
straightening this perfectly orderly environment.
We stimulate their development by suggesting that they maintain their own
space, reminding them of straightening and dusting, of taking full ownership of
the space. We always want to involve children in the care and maintenance of
their own environment. It is not a punishment to clean it up, but we can
encourage them, You know where to find the mop.
Let us work together to help clean it up. Fixing it themselves gives
them more agency and eliminates fear. We look at everything in the space with
the same criteria of perfection, leaving the room as beautiful as it was
before. I would not want to order this environment in front of the children: it
comes back to our ability to do what is necessary and sufficient for the child
and not one thing more.
To gain an
independence with regard to any of the areas of practical life is to further
develop the coordination of movement and lead towards the integrated
personality. Apart from achieving these aims, these practical life activities have the outcomes of emotional
enrichment, because these activities satisfy a fundamental developmental need.
Mastery gives a sense of adequacy. Her connection with the environment is
deepened. When her needs are fulfilled, there comes a sense of peace in the child. The child becomes more self-confident. Allowing them independence is respect for their work.
As another outcome,
the child develops a sense of responsibility
toward their environment. As the child becomes more aware of the needs of the
environment and her capacity to respond to its needs, that leads to a sense of
responsibility. The habit of self-scrutiny is beneficial for the development of
perceptual judgment in the child, with
finer and finer outcomes. This capacity for judgment is an essential component
of independence. Finally, the child gains a
sense for a work cycle, a beginning, a middle, and an end which will
prepare him for all other later work-- a set-up, the work, and the clean up. It
also prepares her to have efficient movements to support the intelligence,
through longer and longer cycles of work.
The child operates
with the aspects of movement, fine motor and
gross motor, visual motor, manual dexterity and the grasp, and the sense of
equilibrium. All of these are developed in the work of the exercises of
practical life. The exercises of practical life must be the central aspect of
the primary classroom, because everything else builds on these skills. The
child needs the capacity for orderly, organized work, developed through the
exercises of practical life, or they will not be able to have the same measure
for success on the academically focused activities.
Remember to put our
timelines for what the child will be able to achieve at a certain point to
protect their developmental needs, in spite of constant testing. We approach
this work with courage.