Children are naturally interested in activities they have witnessed. Therefore, Dr. Montessori began using what she called “Practical Life Exercises” to allow the child to do activities of daily life and therefore adapt and orientate himself in his society.
It is therefore the Directress’s task to demonstrate the correct way of doing these Exercises in a way that allows the child to fully observe the movements. Montessori says, “If talking don’t move, if moving don’t talk”.
The directress must also keep in mind that the goal is to show the actions so that the child can go off and repeat the activity in his own successful way. Montessori says, “Our task is to show how the action is done and at the same time destroy the possibility of imitation”. The child must develop his own way of doing these activities so that the movements become real and not synthetic.
During the child’s sensitive period between birth and 6, the child is constructing the inner building blocks of his person. It is therefore important for the child to participate in activities to prepare him for his environment, that allow him to grow independently and use his motor skills, as well as allow the child to analyze difficulties he may have in the exercise and problem solve successfully.
Montessori also saw the child’s need for order, repetition, and succession in movements. Practical Life Exercises also helps to aid the child to develop his coordination in movement, his balance and his gracefulness in his environment as well as his need to develop the power of being silent.
Dr. Maria Montessori developed her philosophy of education based upon actual observations of children. She said children prefer work than play, and they can only be in their natural self, when their natural self is satisfied through work. It's also through work they acquire independence, order, the power of concentration and be normalized. Exercises of Practical Life was introduced and was recognized as the very heart of Montessori Education for it provides the opportunity for the child’s development of physical co-ordination, social skills, emotional growth as well as cognitive preparation.
Having a rich and stimulating prepared environment equipped with purposeful materials and trained teachers are important for the child to grow to their full potential. Practical Life Activities are the first activities the child is introduced to within the Montessori environment. These exercises are prepared based on activities children witnesses in their day to day life. That is why children can immediately satisfy their inner needs and desires by mastering these exercises independently. Also Practical Life area allows children to do the things what adults do everyday, for example cleaning, dressing or greeting people. As we know that children construct their knowledge by themselves through their life experience.
Categories of Practical Life Exercises
Practical Life Exercises are grouped into four categories, development of motor skills, care of environment, care of self and social grace and courtesy. Exercises in each of these categories provide the opportunity to do purposeful work and are designed to teach the child life skills, so that they may become confident to do their daily chores at home. Activities grouped under ‘Development of Motor Skills’, such as carrying, pouring, squeezing, and twisting, sorting, etc. give the opportunity to exercise and co-ordinate body movements of the child.
Movement is very important to the child; because it contributes not only for the physical growth also intellectual and spiritual development of the child. “Through Movement, he acts upon his external environment and thus carries out his own personal mission in the world. Movement is not only an impression of the ego but it is an indispensable factor in the development of consciousness, since it is the only real means which places the ego in a clearly defined relationship with external reality."
The secret of Childhood
The child learns to ‘Care for the Environment’ from exercises like cutting, cleaning, washing, polishing, sewing and more. They learn that they are a part of the environment and learn to respect and develop a sense of responsibility towards the environment. Also the child will gradually learn how to gain greater control of his gross motor movements so that he would be able perform more complex tasks later on. Some of the activities such as washing of a table can be carried out as a group task, which helps the child to be socialized. The child needs to build himself and learn to take care of himself.
The exercises in ‘Care of Self’ category are designed to provide the child skills need for his sole independence. In order to gain independence, the child needs to establish will and discipline in order. Some of the activities in this category are on how to dress himself and stay clean by washing himself; hands, face, feet as well as his belongings; shoes, napkins, etc.. Between the ages of 2 1/2 -6, the child is in a sensitive period for the learning of good manners.
The exercises of ‘Grace and Courtesy’ are focused on developing will power, establish a proper posture, greet people, excuse one and interrupt when necessary. Maria Montessori considers the Social Grace and Courtesy activities as the most important exercises in the practical life curriculum. She felt that when children are first brought into a Montessori classroom, emphasis must be placed on social grace exercises.
Motive of Practical Life Exercises
Practical Life Curriculum area has four main direct aims; Order, Co-ordination Independence and Concentration, Dr. Maria Montessori observed that children need order at a specific sensitive period in their development. If not provided during this period the opportunity is foregone. A routine is very important as well as a place for everything and everything in its place. This offers the child for orderly self construction. Co-ordination refers to coordinating large and small muscle movements as well as eye-hand co-ordination that reflect the respective development of child’s mental life. "Man achieves his independence by making efforts. To be able to do a thing without any help from others: this is independence. If it exists, the child can progress rapidly; if it does not, his progress will be slow" The Absorbent Mind, chapter.XIV, pg 155
It is very important that the child is given freedom to do these exercises at a time the child pleases; he should be allowed to try, make mistakes and correct his mistakes by himself without any help. The satisfaction of completing an activity drives the child towards independence. The power of Concentration is one of the most calming activities for a child. This is something which is controlled by the child and it challenges his body and his mind. With concentration the child is able to focus on purposeful work. I’ve witnessed to the concentration that my 3 and half year old niece had for folding her little brothers’ nappies.
The pile of nappies was two times bigger than her, I thought, she would be bored and leave, but for my amazement after 45 minutes I could see that she has folded all nappies very neatly and have kept one on top of another and was ready to be placed in the drawers. Within the Montessori classroom deep concentration can be acquired through the ‘Silence Game”. To achieve silence requires effort and the attention of the will, and maximum control of self-consciousness of every movement. Montessori thought of the silence lesson as a means for bringing children to this higher level of spiritual awareness. Practical Life Exercises aid the child in his journey towards normalization
As a result of learning Practical Life Exercises in the Montessori environment, the child starts to develop confidence, self-esteem, he grow towards independence, mutual aid and co-operation, profound spontaneous concentration, attachment to reality and most importantly child's joy of learning is supreme. All these help the child to lead towards normalization. The normalized children possess a unique character and personality not recognized in young children Normalization is the most important single result of our whole work. The Absorbent Mind, Chapter XIX, pg. 204.
Children needs a carefully prepared environment
It is important to provide the child an environment to work on activities of their own choice at their own pace experiencing freedom and self discipline while developing towards independence. Even though materials in Practical Life area are the least standardized, exercises needs to be carefully thought and designed. A prepared environment should consist of purposeful and meaningful materials and properly trained instructors. When preparing materials the teacher needs to consider few principles of the Montessori Practical Life materials which satisfy Childs’ development needs.
Firstly she needs to make sure that each material we give the child should have a definite purpose, for an example the mat is laid to mark the area of his workstation, handling the spoon develops child’s skill of spooning which leads to independence. Secondly materials should progress from simple to more complex design and usage. As a preliminary exercise for transferring solid objects we could give the child a spoon and later, it could progress to tweezers, chopsticks. Also it should be designed to prepare the child indirectly for future learning’s such as writing, mathematics and scientific concepts.
We prepare the child for wiring by teaching them the pincer grip, using thumb, index and middle fingers to hold objects and by left to right and top to bottom concepts, so that these orders naturally incarnates in the child’s mind. The mathematical concepts such as judgement of capacity and volume, division, calculation and exactness includes in activities of spooning, pouring and sweeping. The activity, transferring water using a sponge gives the child the scientific concept of weight. The child could feel the weight of the sponge defers when the water is absorbed and when the water is released. Dr. Maria Montessori said, “Each individual should become aware of his own errors. Each should have a means of checking, so that he can tell if he is right or not.” Absorbent Mind, Chapter XXIV, pg 247.
So she included the path to perfection, which she called “the Control of Error” within the materials itself so the child would be able to observe the activity he completes and understand his own mistakes. If a child has finished working on the dressing frame with large buttons, and he can see that buttons has gone through wrong buttonholes or buttoning halfway or seeing only half of the button come up the flap, these would be his control of errors. He has the opportunity to guide himself to correct his own mistakes. Furthermore when preparing the activity in the Montessori classroom the directress need to make sure that all materials are kept together in a basket or a tray and grouped accordingly to the level of development.
The activity should have its unique location and be reachable to the child so that the child could use the materials of their own choice and return the exercise, leading to independence and self-discipline. Also it is important to be providing attractive and clean child friendly and child size materials. Each activity should be limited in quantity. In a Montessori classroom the directress plays a major role. She needs to be properly trained, be a good role model and she should be able to develop and maintain a happy and rewarding teacher-child relationship. ”The first essential is that the teacher should go thru an inner, spiritual preparation – cultivate certain aptitudes in the moral order.” Her Life and Work, Chapter XVIII, pg 298.
The teacher's prime objectives are to: maintain order in the prepared environment, facilitate the development of the child, encourage independence and self-sufficiency. In conclusion it is apparent that Practical Life Exercises refines movement, providing a foundation in early learning, attitudes and dispositions. Practical life exercises also provide children a sense of accomplishment as they engage in real, meaningful work with tangible results. The familiar home-like environment of the practical life corner allows children to gain independence, order, concentration and confidence as they carry out thoughtfully prepared activities. This leads to normalization.