Introduction to Practical Life

For each section that we do in the course, we have to write a short introduction that we research from class notes and other sources.  I’m not posting anything directly from our notes,  only from the writing that I have personally done.  I will also be posting some of the exercises, extensions and materials that I design, write or produce for the course as those remain my property. Here is the introduction that I put together for Practical Life.

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The area of practical life is the first area that children are introduced to in the Montessori classroom. This 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 and wished to imitate, including pouring, spooning, various cleaning exercises and others. The practical life exercises are designed to encourage independence and assist in the development of concentration and inner discipline. They introduce children to the idea of a full cycle of activity, and help the child to develop the mental and muscular control necessary to succeed in other areas (both in the classroom and in the wider social environment). The exercises are ordered and graded, with earlier exercises providing all the skills needed for the more advanced ones. The orderliness of the area helps children feel secure, orient themselves in the classroom, and develop the inner order necessary for clear and rational thought. The grading of the exercises ensures that children frequently experience success when attempting new exercises, thus fostering self-confidence and self-esteem, both necessary qualities for fulfilled and successful living.

All materials used are real, and often breakable. This acts as a built in control of error, puts children in contact with the realities of their environment and teaches responsibility. Every exercise involves voluntary movement, not just to perform the exercise, but to fetch it, find a workspace, and pack it away afterwards. This satisfies the young child’s innate need for movement. As the children develop increasing control over their movements, these movements come under the conscious direction of their will, aiding the development of the will, which in turns leads to increased independence and self-esteem. All the exercises in the practical life area are purposeful activities, engaging both the mind and the hand, allowing them to work together, as is necessary for integrated development. Because the children’s hands are busy, their minds focus, allowing them to develop concentration and spontaneously repeat exercises. This repetition indicates that they are engaged in inner work, growing and developing both mentally and physically.

The practical life exercises fall into four broad areas: Preliminary exercises and elementary movements allow the child to practise the movements and skills necessary for the more advanced areas, as well as ensuring their awareness of safety in the environment. For example, carrying scissors and rolling a mat would be preliminary exercises, and spooning or tweezing exercises would give practise in elementary movements. The care of the environment activities allow the child to practise the skills needed to manage daily chores in their home environment. This includes both indoor activities such as scrubbing or sweeping, as well as outdoor skills, again fostering independence, responsibility and respect. Care of the person exercises allow the child to become independent in caring for themselves, practising dressing and personal hygiene skills and nurturing the child’s sense of personal dignity. The final component of the practical life area is the development of grace and courtesy. This is often addressed by the directress(es) with a group of children, using role-playing and group discussion, allowing them to absorb societal expectations, appropriately express emotions and behave with dignity and respect towards others.

Maria Montessori said “A man builds himself through working”, (The Secret of Childhood). This illustrates the extreme importance of children’s active participation in purposeful activity (i.e. work) on their environment. Only through this type of work can children build and develop their characters, skills and personalities. The area of practical life is uniquely suited to introducing children to purposeful work, and continues to fulfil an important role in their development throughout the preschool years.

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