Have you noticed that young children often want to help with daily chores such as washing the dishes or wiping the table?
Children have a natural desire to be adult’s “little helpers” and carry out tasks they see adults doing. The Montessori classroom responds to this desire by offering the child opportunities to engage in these activities independently. The Practical Life area of a Montessori environment includes activities that may look like daily chores to an adult, but children find joy in accomplishing these tasks. Not only do children gain a sense of functional independence and self-confidence, but they also develop the ability to carry out long sequences of activity, work with concentration, and further exercise the coordination of their physical body.
As the young child begins his experience in the Montessori environment, exercises are offered to the child that develop or refine a specific skill, such as using a spoon or pouring liquid. Once these skills are mastered, other activities are introduced that combine the use of multiple physical skills.
One such activity, Washing a Table, is an exercise that combines a variety of previously developed skills. At first, children carry out this exercise (and others in Practical Life) for the pleasure of the process; for example, whether the table is dirty or not they will engage in the process of washing it. The child may choose to wash the table over and over again just to fulfill his internal need of the process. Later, the child shifts his interest to the purpose of washing the table. For example, the child will wash the table because it is dirty.
So, if the young child is not washing the table because it is dirty, what is he gaining from this exercise?
The ability to carry out the activity completely on his own. The child lays out the items needed for the activity, he fetches his own water, wets, scrubs, rinses, and dries the table, and replaces the items back on the shelf. The child is allowed to repeat this activity as long as he wants. Montessori believed that repetition is beneficial to mastering a skill and becoming master over one’s own movements.
- “A child must carry out his work by himself and he must bring it to completion” (The Secret of Childhood, p. 197).
- “Even if the child does not succeed in his effort, the adult should not interrupt his actions” (Creative Development in the Child, p. 31).
Coordination and Equilibrium
Children are naturally urged to move. Practical Life activities give purpose and direction to his movements to expend his energies. His movements during these activities provide a synchronous relationship with physical body and his brain to coordinate the two working together.
The child must be able to control and coordinate his own movements as he carries his materials across the room to a table and as he engages in the movements necessary to wash the table. Have you ever watched a 4-year old carry large objects? There are often stumbles and spills, but as the child is able to practice these large motor movements without the help of an adult, he becomes master of his physical movements and gradually coordinates his body to work in harmony.
Developing a Sense of Order
Washing a Table is a long process with many sequenced steps. The child is first shown how to do the exercise from the Guide, then he is allowed to carry out the activity on his own. The child will find through his own experience that he must follow a specific sequence, otherwise he will be confronted with obstacles. For example, if the child tries to put soap on the scrub brush without water, the soap will not spread onto the table. This also shows the child a natural consequence, without having the adult interfere, which tells the child he has done something wrong. The child comes to understand that in order for the soap to make bubbles, he must first have water.
Concentration and Repetition
Concentration can result from Practical Life activities as the child becomes engaged in a task the he can accomplish on his own, when materials necessary for the work are purposeful, and the activity lends itself to repetition. This activity allows for repetition of movements and lends itself to repetition with the same or other tables in the environment.
So, the next time we have the extra “little helper” at our side, let us remember how much the child is able to learn and develop through the Practical Life activities!
About the Author:
Tiffany Liddell is currently an AMI Primary Trainer in Training residing in Mesa, Arizona. She completed her AMI Primary Training in 2005 and has since been a lead Montessori Primary guide in a charter school and her own private preschool. She has been an active member of the Phoenix area Early Childhood community by facilitating professional development workshops and developing curriculum for a local community college. Tiffany also supports the Southwest Institute of Montessori Studies (SIMS) Primary training courses as a course assistant. Tiffany has been married to her husband for twelve years and has four children who all attended (of which two still attend) Montessori school and, in her spare time, enjoys cycling in the Arizona desert.