An explanation of why Montessori’s practical life curriculum is vital to your child’s education
By Ms. Claire Fitzgerald
Psychological studies show that a child’s strongest developmental stage is between the ages of 3 to 6 years old, a time period termed by Dr. Maria Montessori as each child’s Window of Opportunity. But what does that have to do with teaching my preschool child to clean tables?
In the Montessori environment there are direct and indirect purposes for every activity. Here are some related to cleaning tables:
Direct Educational Purpose
1. Actually learning to clean tables – Your child learns a wide variety of academic studies his/her Montessori classroom: mathematics, language, reading, science, penmanship, botany, geography, geometric shapes and patterns; but he/she also learns the day-to-day activities that we as adults take for granted. In addition to cleaning tables, this includes buttoning a shirt, tying shoes, pouring a drink, or preparing a snack.
2. Grace and courtesy – By cleaning a table after eating or painting, the child is allowing another child to use this table, and demonstrating respect for next child by leaving the table in the condition he/she found it. When working with classroom materials, the child also learns to respect and care for items that do not belong to him/her.
3. Muscle development and hand-eye coordination – The day-to-day tasks mentioned above all require muscle development and hand-eye coordination to complete. Tasks with larger areas, such as cleaning tables assist with the basic development of these skills. Other tasks, such as using liquid droppers to squeeze drops out one at a time, develop very fine motor skills, which children have fewer opportunities to practice in their daily lives.
Indirect Educational Purpose
1. Independence – The practical life area of the classroom teaches your child how to care for him/herself and his/her environment on his/her own, without having to rely on other people. Learning to complete small tasks on his/her own gives children the confidence to complete increasingly larger tasks independently.
2. Muscle strength for future activities (e.g., writing) – By washing a table the child is doing the direct aim of cleaning the table but unbeknownst to him he is strengthening the muscles in his arm and wrist which will help prepare him for writing later. Indirect purposes of the exercise prepare the child for later stages in the environment and life. The materials in the practical life area prepare the child’s hands for very fine movements and therefore Montessori children come to writing with ease. The repetition of cleaning leads to requirement of greater skills and the child’s muscular control becomes refined.
3. Logical order to complete tasks – The materials in the classroom invite the child’s need for order. The presentations and actions are very attractive as they are broken down into logical steps and are preformed in sequence. They all have a clear beginning, middle and end and that is why the child learns very quickly to complete a cycle of activity and to reach a goal he set for himself. These exercises help the child with sequence as many exercises must be done in a logical order e.g. wetting the table before putting soap on it. The child learns there is a logical order that must be followed in order to complete the task at hand. This early learning of sequence helps him understand that logical order consists in our everyday life, e.g. putting words in the right order for them to mean something.
Montessori’s practical life curriculum creates a strong foundation on which students build lifetime habits. With daily practice, all of the educational goals as stated above become second nature.