Practical life is an area of the Montessori curriculum which is unique compared to what we typically see in early childhood education. Montessori felt that acquiring practical skills such as proper hand washing, sewing, and food preparation served the function of increasing children's autonomy and self efficacy. A child who's been introduced to exercises in cooking, cleaning, and self care can genuinely contribute at home and to the larger community. They also have the capacity to plan, organize, and execute a series of steps to accomplish a specific task. A child's job may be as small as throwing their clothing in the hamper or as big as lovingly preparing a meal for a guest. These foundational skills are at the heart of learning and nurture intrinsic motivation. As Benjamin Franklin aptly said, "Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Include me and I learn."
Since last week was Montessori Education Week, and March is Women's history month, we'll take the time to talk a bit about Dr. Maria Montessori! Dr. Montessori demonstrated through her personality, practice and persistence that education could be an instrument of change in society. Every activity a child chooses in the classroom has a purpose, and the child's mastery of these activities prepares them for a successively greater tasks.
We can look at some language activities to provide examples. A very young child prepares her mind for reading by increasing her vocabulary with picture cards. Later, she may explore using different art activities to refine her grasp and dexterity. And around three and a half years of age, she will use the metal insets to explore pencil grip and fine motor control while simultaneously exploring sandpaper letters and the writing tray. Each accomplishment leads to the next and naturally propels the child towards writing and reading at their own pace.
In the preschool, celebrating Black History Month means taking an even closer look at Black artists, politicians, scientists, athletes and peacemakers and their contributions to our world community. Explorations of these stories translate beautifully into curricular activities children can create with their hands as they broaden their sense of social responsibility.
Children in our class were introduced to a biography of George Washington Carver by Aliki entitled A Weed is a Flower. We were struck not only by his incredible story but by his profound love for the Earth and for the people who farmed it. He promoted planting soybeans, sweet potatoes and peanuts to enrich the soil, so we explored one of his published recipes for sweet potato pie. The children scrubbed, peeled, sliced, layered, floured, rolled, and egg washed this delicious dish until it went in the oven and home to their families!
The third, or kindergarten, year at The Walden School is the time when many of the child's earlier lessons come together and become a permanent part of their greater understanding of themselves and their world. In typical, multi-age Montessori classrooms, a child starts as a novice, grows to an apprentice, and then, in their kindergarten year, they become a leader. Children flourish with the gift of this final year in the Montessori classroom, when all the knowledge, skills and abilities they’ve been honing for the past few years synthesize and reveal a child that is intellectually independent, loves learning, and feels accountable for their own words and actions. The daily activities of our very youngest children plant the seeds of care and responsibility that will allow them to flourish during their next steps.
The Montessori classroom serves not only the academic needs of each child, but also the psychological, emotional foundation developing at this early age. Children are encouraged to meet their own needs as best they are able. As adults, we would rather take on the pain, tears, and challenges than see a child struggle, however; the greatest gift one can give a child is time. Time to struggle to stand up before learning to walk. Time to try again and again with a button or a zipper. We encourage parents to foster independence and allow them the time to “do it themselves”. Trust the process and enjoy your children's first and most lasting accomplishments.
A Montessori Child is a Leader: Children who have been allowed to take responsibility for their work and have developed an essential level of self-discipline and responsibility experience high self-esteem and are prepared for life. They have the requisite skills to go on to higher education, to be successful at what they attempt, and to step forth into the world with the leadership and problem solving skills that they will need to successfully face the tasks that await them. Pictured here are children sweeping, sewing, and using a blender to make paper pulp!
A Montessori Child is a Collaborator: Montessori students work cooperatively and collaboratively on a number of tasks. Older students are role models and teachers for the younger students in the classroom. The youngest students look to these leaders for guidance and help. Here the members of our class diligently bead a necklace honoring the traditions and agricultural contributions of indigenous Americans. Working as a group is grounding and gives children the opportunity to learn from one another.
Children are self-motivated when they are allowed to make choices and have some sense of control over what they elect to do. Our classrooms are carefully prepared spaces which encourage exploration in math, language, science, culture and more! The materials are designed to stimulate learning, promote freedom of choice and allow children to follow their interests. They are free to contribute by washing dishes and cleaning their space after an activity. They can also initiate academic work, like the spontaneous sound sorting game pictured here!
A Montessori Child is Organized: Montessori children are exposed to the concept of “time-management” at an early age. It is a skill, which is essential for success in the complex society in which we find ourselves. The organization gives the child a sense of security and power for they know what to do and how to do it.
A Montessori Child is Independent: In order for children to become independent they must acquire skills intellectual, social, and physical. When we aid them in the acquisition of what they need, we help them develop independence. We guide them in their growth as we prepare a learning and social environment in which they are able to make their way toward independence. It is by experiencing independence in an appropriate environment that they come to acquire their necessary skills.