OK..........I know it's kind of a cheesy title. But it really sums up a main purpose for the practical life curriculum area. It IS very practical to provide young children with activities that allow them to gain self-confidence through learning to independently complete tasks that they will use in REAL LIFE. I will admit here that I get frustrated when I hear parents say things like, "All my kid does at Montessori is pour beans all day." I have many issues with statements like that. But suffice it to say, it's not just about the beans.
As I mentioned in a previous post, during my Montessori training I was required to basically write my own teacher's manuals. While this was a lot of work, there was a lot of value in it. In addition to writing up the steps for presenting each material, we were asked to write an introduction to each album which kind of explained each curricular area. Since I don't have my albums saved anywhere (other than the hard copies), I cannot provide a link to my entire Practical Life album. However, I am going to retype some of my introduction here, because I think I worded it pretty well (and that way I don't have to try to think it all up again!). The direct quote from my album is as follows:
"Practical life activities allow children to practice doing what they observe adults around them doing every day-dressing themselves, cleaning the house, and conversing with people. Prior to experiencing the Practical Life area of the Montessori classroom, many children have been actively discouraged by adults from participating in these types of activities either because adults perceive the children as incapable of participation or because they perceive the child's emerging skills as a barrier to their busy agenda. It is true that as children practice the skills of pouring, sweeping, scrubbing, and polishing, many "messes" will occur and objects will be broken. However, it is only through experiencing feedback from such interactions with the environment that children learn important lessons about cause and effect, controlling one's movements, and cleaning up after oneself. This premise supports the use of real objects that will break if dropped or that will injure if used carelessly."
As I was just typing the above, I was smiling, thinking of myself writing those words 12 years ago, long before I was a parent. I am DEFINITELY guilty of having the "busy agenda" and not letting my children help at home as much as I could or should. I won't even pretend to be super Montessori-mom. I try, but I can always do better. However, I am comforted to know that my oldest was able to experience all these important activities when he was in Montessori preschool, and my youngest will get to experience them this fall when he attends Montessori preschool (with Mom as his teacher.........ahem).
Finally, I want to point out here (as a rebuttal to the hypothetical Montessori parent complaining about the bean pouring) that each practical life activity has four indirect goals or aims in addition to the direct goal or aim. This is what I meant when I said, it's not just about pouring beans. Following are the four indirect aims of the PL activities:
1. Development of a sense of order
Practical Life activities meet the young child's need for a sense of order by assigning as specific place to each set of materials on the shelf and by demonstrating (through teacher modelling) a specific, organized series of steps to follow to complete an activity. Following steps to complete a task is an important skill to develop for future academic work such as reading, writing and math.
2. Refinement of gross and fine motor skills
All Practical Life activities require good motor skills for their successful completion. By repeating the same exercise over and over, children perfect their motor skills and increase their self-confidence. Additionally, increased motor skills prepare the child for writing.
3. Development of concentration
Young children often have short attention spans and are unable to concentrate on any activity for long periods of time. In order to carry out the complex tasks of many Practical Life activities, children must learn to concentrate on their own work and to resist the distractions of others around them. As children repeat activities, their concentration increases. In turn, increased concentration will help children to focus on the more academic activities in the Math and Language areas.
All Practical Life activities are available to all children at all times. They are arranged so each child can independently select an activity and complete it without an adult's assistance. Developing better skills to care for self and environment allows children to become more independent in all settings. And....increased independence boosts confidence and fuels a child's motivation to try more and more complex academic tasks.
So, you see, it's not just about the beans. Nuff said. And since I hate to post without a photo, here is another Practical Life activity I developed using some of the things I posted about here.
The cubes here are plastic "ice cubes". There are four of each color: green, blue and white. The little metal shovel DOES work to transfer them to the bowls. Children can sort by color if they wish, or not. The cubes, bowls, tray and shovel are all points of interest.