Notes from Emily
I hope that all families had a relaxing and rejuvenating February break! Please be sure to check out the doodle link for classroom visits if you are interested in shadowing your child for an extended morning visit-- there are still many slots available in the coming weeks.
When we meet in late March for Parent Teacher conferences, you will most likely hear me refer to the area in the classroom called “practical life.” This area includes prepared activities on the shelf as well as lessons and games led by the adult that teach exactly what the name suggests: the practical skills of everyday living, including caring for oneself and one’s environment (basic hygiene, care of clothing, cleaning and food preparation), navigating one’s social world, and developing control and coordination of movement. Maria Montessori observed children’s universal instinct to mimic the activity of the adults in their lives. She believed that we should honor this impulse of the child by providing them with child-sized tools and materials for them to hone the skills required for ‘functional independence.’ After all, it is the three to six year old’s developmental prerogative to learn how to do things for oneself!
The activities on the practical life shelf appeal to children of all ages in the Primary classroom. In addition to being visually attractive and enticing to the child’s unconscious desire to develop functional independence, these activities build gross and fine motor skills and develop concentration. The youngest child may enjoy experimenting with pouring grains and water or practicing opening and closing various containers, locks, or latches. Other simple practical life activities include using utensils to transfer objects (spoons, tongs, chopsticks), beading with large, easy to grasp beads, basic stitching, using cleaning tools and practice fastening clothes with the various dressing frames (zipping, buttoning, buckling, lacing, etc). As a child builds the strength of her hands and her ability to stick with a task, she may enjoy activities such as scooping and measuring flour, scrubbing tables, grating spices to be used in baking projects, peeling a hard-boiled egg, watering the classroom plants, embroidering or arranging flowers. These activities are designed with cultural relevance in mind, teaching the skills that a child will need to function in his or her particular culture. Embedded within these activities are the feedback and natural consequences of working with the material: if a child’s hand-eye coordination is not yet perfected when pouring water, they may overfill a pitcher and experience a spill; if they are carrying a tray too hastily, the contents may fall and may break. In this way, the material becomes the teacher and the child can self-correct over time.
Practical life also includes activities that are not found on the shelf. Some of these lessons, called ‘grace and courtesy,’ spotlight particular social graces or aspects of the classroom routine in a fun, role-modeling format. The adult may invite an older child to help her act out a particular scenario, modeling positive behavior or phrasing to use in a particular situation. Then, the other children practice it as if in a play. Such demonstrations could include how to hang up winter clothes, how to set a table for lunch, how to ask peer if you can join them in their activity, or how to ask for more personal space. Nothing is overlooked because we cannot assume that a child knows what to say in a particular situation. The guide observes the children to determine what grace and courtesy lessons would most support the community. In addition, we play many movement games such as follow the leader, red light, green light, freeze dance, and Simon says. Young children must move in order to build enough physical strength and balanced to move with ease and grace. In addition to providing a fun opportunity to move, these games explore the contrast of movement and stillness, inviting the child to engage their own will and self-discipline to stop or go when appropriate.
Montessori’s insight that children thirst for the practical tools and lessons of life should not be overlooked. While the practical life activities may not seem to have academic value, think of how much hand strength is required to hold a pencil, the hand-eye coordination required to trace a sandpaper form of a letter, or the fine motor skills for counting each individual bead in the Thousands Chain. The work a child does in practical life prepares their hand for holding a writing utensil and for manipulating the small math materials in the Primary and Elementary classrooms. Equally important, practical life activities build competence and self-confidence as a child masters skills of everyday life through trial and error. Often, we see a third-year child taking pleasure in caring for the classroom environment or showing a younger peer how to zip their coat or set up for lunch. When a child is given the opportunity to master the basic skills of everyday living, these activities are no longer ‘work’ and they can take pride in contributing to their learning community. What a wonderful attitude to foster in young children that will serve them for their entire lives!
Notes from Minori
I hope everyone is having a nice, relaxing and fun winter vacation. I just heard the radio saying “the flu has peaked for the season and has begun to decline…” So that’s great news. We all would like our children to be happy and healthy!
We have had another busy month. For February, we explored Valentine’s Day activities on top of our regular work. Children particularly loved making Valentine bracelets by counting out 10 red beads and stringing them with a pipe cleaner as a fine motor exercise. In Art, they also enjoyed the “Heart Printing” by using a heart stencil and a paint roller. Then children sprinkled glitter on the heart while they were wet. It was a simple activity, but the children loved it! I also observed that the children were taking turns nicely, by saying, “Can I have my turn when you are done?” It is heart warming to see social skills being developed in them.
This month we will restart our activities and explorations. I am very grateful to be able to observe your child’s progression of the work in all areas of our classroom. I am also very excited to have you as visitors in our classroom for Spring observations. I hope this opportunity will give you insight and some ideas of how your child is empowered through Montessori education.
I would like to say “thank you” to Kelly (Beatrice’s Mom) for donating her beautiful hard printing paper stock to our school. Our children enjoy making their own design on the foam sheets with a skewer and later color with paint, and print it on the hard paper. Thank you, Kelly for letting us try your beautiful materials!
Notes from Hailey
There is a famous Maria Montessori quote: “Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.” It’s one we hear all the time, but at this time of the school year I find myself really reflecting on it. So much of what we do in the classroom is to foster and build the child’s independence – showing them how to do something themselves – and now is when we are really seeing that independence shine in the classroom. Whether it is zipping their own jacket, solving a conflict with a friend, or independently accomplishing a task they’ve worked so hard on, it’s a beautiful thing to witness. We’ve heard so much “I did it myself!” lately, as the children have been so proud of their accomplishments. When I think about this quote I also reflect on the fact that we are not only building their independence, but their confidence as well. I think about how the “I did it!” used to be “I can’t!” often without trying to do it first.
With life being as busy and crazy as it is at times, it can be easier for us, as adults, to do things for our children to get out the door a little quicker, or get somewhere on time. But in taking away their independence, we are also taking away the confidence they have in themselves to complete the task. Often, the opposite happens: when the children are able to be independent, it can take less time than it would if we were to interrupt their process.
In the classroom, we’ve seen that this confidence and independence has also made the children excited to help their friends with tasks that they now know how to do. Additionally, the children have been more apt to try things on their own, or ask a friend to show them, before coming to an adult for help or jumping to “I can’t!”
It’s so amazing to think about how far everyone has come!