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!
Pouring Games March 13, 2012