Preparing the environment, or setting the stage, is so important in a Montessori classroom. The teachers spend so much time making sure everything is accessible to the children, that the flow of movement works, and that the classroom is as beautiful as possible. (Move over Martha Stewart!) The classroom is arranged around these areas of work – practical life (care of self and the environment), sensorial ( learning about shape, size, texture, sound, smell, taste, color, weight, patterns, etc., through exploration using our senses), math, language, cultural subjects (social studies – history and geography), art and craft, science. Every piece of material has its place and purpose.
When we have a special event, we also focus on the preparation of the environment. Consider our recent event – a day in Paris. This gives the children a real purpose for making flags, push pinning out shapes of France, coloring and cutting out pictures of the Eiffel Tower, etc. This builds anticipation, and helps children get excited about a special event. We’re already thinking about setting the stage for a mothers’ day tea, a special event for Dads, graduation.
At home, you can involve your children in ‘preparing the environment’, too – dying Easter eggs, decorating the Christmas tree, preparing a room for a visit from grandparents, preparing for the birth of a sibling, preparing a tray for ‘breakfast in bed’ for a Mom or Dad on a special day, setting the table for a special meal . . . Admit it, who doesn’t love a special card or decoration made by a three year old!
At the heart of family life – practical life activities March 19, 2012
Ah, when I see photos like this, they bring back such happy memories. They also occasionally make me feel like a bad Mom! What was I thinking – allowing my baby boy, then aged about fifteen months, now twenty-four years old, to stand on a chair, washing dishes at the kitchen sink. But he never fell, and he loved the time he spent at that sink – playing with bubbles, pouring, rinsing. With help, he was already participating in the daily life and chores of the family. My daughter Anna was even younger when she loved to help make soup. She would sit on the counter and transfer the vegetables I chopped – onions, carrots, turnips, parsnips, potatoes, zucchini, celery – into the big soup pot.
This photo was taken in our family home in Arlington, Texas. The home had a large kitchen, connected directly to the den. This was a favorite hangout of all of the neighborhood kids. They loved to come to help cook and bake. We made individual pizzas, peeled and sliced carrots, and baked bread and cookies together. Another favorite activity was to play laundry. I would set up a few bowls for washing and rinsing dolls’ clothing, and a clothes horse out in the yard for drying the clothes. After the laundry sessions, we would wash and dry the floor of the den. Thank goodness it was linoleum. On good weather days (frequent in Texas), the whole laundry was set up out of doors.
You know how when you have a party, it’s hard to get people out of the kitchen? There’s a reason for that. The kitchen is the heart of a home. Invite your children to spend time with you in the kitchen, on worthwhile chores. That will make good memories for you for the future. Even now, when my grown up children return home for a visit, we spend a lot of time shopping, chopping, cooking and eating together. The kitchen and practical life are still at the heart of the family!
Pouring Games March 13, 2012
Even before I discovered Montessori, I knew the joy of pouring games. My husband and I would set up an area of our yard in London with a bucket of water, an upside down crate for an outdoor table, and lots of teapots, cups, pitchers, and watering cans, for Anna, our first born, to play what she called ‘pouring games.’ This would keep her happily engaged for hours. When I saw my first Montessori School, about two years after this photo of Anna was taken, I was so happy – a school where a whole section of the classroom was devoted to ‘pouring games.’
Now, as a Montessori teacher, I understand the importance of ‘pouring games’, or ‘practical life’, for there is more to do than just pour! There’s scooping, and transferring using tongs, tweezers, basters, a sponge, chopsticks . . .There’s dressing frames to practice zipping, buttoning, snapping, buckling, and tying. There are brooms, dustpans, mops, buckets, sponges, and watering cans for sweeping, mopping, cleaning, and watering plants. A child can open and lock padlocks of all shapes and sizes. How fun to find the key that fits! A child can use a screwdriver and a hammer, a needle and thread, scissors . . . And then there’s the joy of food prep . . . apples and cucumbers and eggs and bananas to peel and slice and serve, berries to wash and mix with yogurt, jam or butter or cream cheese to spread on bread or scones, mini pizzas to make with bagels, and pizza sauce and cheese, a cake to bake for a mothers’ day tea . . . so much to do! And we know that children learn best by doing.
Through these activities, children learn how to do things for themselves, and take care of their own needs and the environment. Practical life activities help children become competent, independent people. The activities take a lot of concentration, too. Next time you get a chance to observe in a Montessori classroom, watch as a child threads a needle, or pours water from one glass pitcher into another. Often you’ll see a young child stick out his tongue in concentration. The children are deeply engaged in developing their hand-eye coordination, too, in preparation for more challenging tasks, like writing.
At home, children love to be involved in household chores. They can set the table, pour drinks, clear the table at the end of a meal. They can wash, dry and tear lettuce and spinach for a salad. They can prepare juice from a frozen can of concentrate – lots of practice in pouring and measuring. They can also help cook and bake, with supervision. Children can help fold laundry, match socks and roll them into balls, help with recycling, feed pets, water household plants. Out of doors they can help with gardening, water plants, weed, fill a bird bath with water, rake leaves, shovel snow.
The right size tools make helping more fun. It’s also important to remember that for young children, the fun is in the doing. They are focused on the process, not the end result. One fall day, I watched our preschoolers work together to make a huge pile of leaves. They then took turns jumping into the leaf pile, before taking armfulls of leaves and rescattering them around the playground. The activity was never about clearing away the leaves, but about enjoying a beautiful fall day with friends.
Now, as a grown up, I’m reminded of the importance of practical life activities every time I enjoy the satisfaction of mastering a new skill – whether that be learning how to blog (!), mastering a new computer program, or a new knitting stitch, or a new recipe. People like to be good at ‘doing things’, and that’s what practical life is all about!
Surprise! March 6, 2012
Children are so spontaneous. Last Thursday I happened to be in Ms. Jane’s classroom as Ms. Marsha, our music teacher, arrived. The children were so excited. They had made tissue paper flower bouquets for Ms. Marsha. Their teacher, Ms. Jane, reminded the children that this was a surprise. (Ms. Marsha is retiring soon, and ‘Friends are like flowers’ is one of her favorite songs. We were honoring Ms. Marsha’s twenty years of musical involvement with our school at our recent Benefit Dinner. Ms. Marsha would receive bouquets from all of our classes, plus the teachers.) The children called out, “Ms. Marsha is here, Ms. Marsha is here.” One child rushed forward to tell her, “We have a secret, and we’re not gonna tell.” A second child nodded and added, “Yes, and it’s flowers!” Both children went back to their activities, quite convinced that they’d done their job of ‘not telling about the flowers!’ Children so love having a surprise to share with the people they love, but for the recipient of the surprise it takes quite a lot of skill to remain surprised! However, this does remind me of the generosity of children. They love celebrating anyone’s special day!
Okay, I am a total newbie when it comes to blogging, yet I know there is an audience for what I am about to write. I am a Director of the Montessori School of Pullman. I have so many stories and so much information I would like to share with parents. I know that not all parents have the time or inclination to read about the binomial cube, for example, but for those who do, I would like to share with them my observations – hence this blog, bevfollowsthechild
I aim to post at least once a week, and feature a particular piece of Montessori material. I promise to refrain from using Montessori jargon, so parents can understand!