“The environment must be rich in motives which lend interest to activity and invite the child to conduct his own experiences.”
Practical life at the toddler level is primarily built into the environment. There are some materials on the shelves, but daily life in the classroom provides many opportunities to practice practical life skills. The children have jackets to hang, requiring the right positioning of the hanger, as well as zipping or buttoning. There are animals to feed, requiring grasping, counting, cutting and tweezing. Snacks must be made using our pouring, cutting, spreading and sponging skills. Cleaning follows many of our activities requiring washing, sweeping and mopping. After a busy time on the playground, there is often sand to be removed which requires shoes to be taken off and put back on again. Then there is rolling! The children roll everything from aprons to sheets and blankets. They work very, very hard to develop those finger muscles we will need for many activities including writing.
Montessori made the discovery that movement and learning are interconnected—that in fact, movement enhances learning. Practical Life exercises utilize movement to support the development of a variety of skills in young children. In the early childhood classroom this curriculum area allows the child to fulfill his/her own needs while developing independence, self-responsibility, small motor control, and a sense of order. The child is offered opportunities to prepare food (orange juicing, banana slicing, and carrot peeling), care for the environment (table-washing, sweeping, window washing), experience dressing skills (buttoning, snapping, zipping), and care for the self (hand washing, pouring). In the early childhood classroom we offer variations of these exercises, always maintaining a steady and continuous flow of new and exciting experiences.
Kindergarten – The Pancake Experience
The Kindergarten class recently had the opportunity to prepare Oat Bran pancakes during one of their afternoon “Cooking and Etiquette” classes. The children mixed the batter, and then as the teacher flipped pancakes the children set their places and prepared to dine. They put to use their pouring and spreading skills as they prepared their pancakes with butter and maple syrup, and refined their cutting skills as well (cutting a pancake requires children to use their dominant hand to hold the pancake in place with a fork and then switch the utensil to the other hand to eat). The pancake work is now available each morning for the children. They can dine at the snack table practicing quiet conversation and other acquired table manners with their peers.
6 – 9 year olds – The Fundamental Needs of People
This year the 6 – 9 olds have learned about the indigenous people of California whose primary art form is the woven basket. The children learned to weave their own coiled basket which entailed learning to thread a needle, to braid, and to shape their baskets by stitching. They learned the vocabulary—“warp and weft.” One of the classrooms presented a play about a Tongva-Gabrielino medicine woman Toypurina and dyed their own costumes to look like leather.
The children are in the process of learning about tools that the natives used, such as bows, arrows and spears. The children were introduced to archery and will have the opportunity to have 3 archery lessons. They will also create their own spears and play games as the native children did!
Student Store – Practical Life in the 9-12 Class
In the upper elementary classroom, 9-12 year old students have been busy making products for their student store. Crafts like pixel beads, which allow students to practice concentration, are popular choices for both boys and girls. Fiber crafts give students an opportunity to plan ahead, as well as the chance to experiment with color and texture. Students are enjoying crocheting as well as weaving this year. Paper crafts, such as origami, support precision of movement as well as concentration of attention. Perhaps the most important Practical Life skill that students have developed has been the ability to plan and organize their store. While adults have worked to facilitate their conversation, student store decisions are made by a committee of students.