Thursday, September 20, 2007

Apples & Art

Art & Play at Waterfall Arts Belfast Maine. Thursday mornings I lead a parent and child art class for one hour. It is shaping up to be one of my favorite hours out of the week. Being that I am not teaching this school year, I have to say, I love being in the company of two and three year olds again.

I enjoy the children's observations and genuine delight in the process of an activity. It is as 'living in the moment' as I am able to be these days. I so long to be of that place of mind, like a two year old, centered and focused on the feel of paint on their skin. I envy them and their ability to let all other noise and distraction fade away when a blank piece of paper and paint is ready and waiting.

Here is a lively and beautiful creation by two year old Stella. Although provided with cut apples and leaves to make prints from, Stella found her flow in using the paint brush. She blended and mixed and made a lush shade of dark green. She was lost in it and it was simply lovely to watch.

Thank you Stella and all the Art and Play participants (big & small) for letting me share my Thursdays with you! [For more information about Waterfall Arts programs for children please visit their web site found under my list of 'Links that Inspire'.] Today's Art & play Activity: Leaf and Apple Prints, was inspired by the picture book illustrations from the book: Turtle Splash! by Cathryn Falwell
To do this activity at home:
You will need the following supplies:
Washable non-toxic paints, a child size brush, water, several sheets of paper. An old saucer or plastic lid will work nicely for dipping apples. Leaves, cut apples, whatever else you desire to make prints from (preferably found in nature).
Brush the vein side of a leaf, make sure you cover the entire leaf. Now carefully put the leaf, paint side down, on your sheet of paper, cover it with another sheet of paper, press down and rub the leaf area. Gently lift the top sheet and the leaf. You may find a beautiful print where the leaf had been. Keep trying, experiment and play with your art. Enjoy different colors, overlapping prints, and have fun!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Everyday Living....and yummy soup!

"Let ME do it!" how many of us have heard this familiar phrase when trying to complete a task such as cooking or even when we are lifting something heavy? Our children's interest in work comes about through their tendency to imitate what their parents and older siblings are up to. Often it is the youngest child who cries out to help with pushing the vacuum, pulling weeds in the garden, washing the family dog. When your child exhibits this kind of behavior, it is the ideal time to let him/her work along with you, particularly in the kitchen, a sensorial haven for children with good things to smell, taste and feel. When you are cooking, doing laundry, cleaning, gardening, washing the car, or other everyday tasks, let your child join in.
Let your child:
  • scrub potatoes
  • spread peanut butter on celery
  • make meatballs
  • roll pie dough
  • beat eggs
  • grease pans for baking
  • use a cookie cutter
  • arrange cut flowers in a vase
  • fold napkins
  • match socks
  • dust window sills
  • wash car bumpers
  • scrub brush the deck
  • water household plants
The key to the success of this is providing appropriate sized tools for the task--broom, mop, carpet sweeper, sponges, dustpan and brush--provide your child with items they can use to feel successful. (See LINK list: For Small Hands) Perhaps the essence of Montessori's theories on this subject can be expressed by her insight that an adult works to perfect the environment, but a child works to perfect being itself. (from The Secret of Childhood p.217)According to Montessori, a child's work is to create the adult he or she will become. Each little task, especially if it is self-chosen, contributes to his development.

That doesn't mean that a child should never play. Play is a vital part of a child's life. it's just that children usually don't differentiate between play such as having a teddy bear tea party and actually working at a task such as sweeping up crumbs. Montessori believed that sometimes even more than play, children enjoy challenging tasks that increase their concentration, coordination, competence and ultimately their independence.

Each year the Cornerspring Children's House celebrates the Fall Harvest with Stone Soup. We read the story Stone Soup as a group and talk about how we could create our very own Cornerspring Stone Soup! The children are asked to contribute whatever they can, a 1/4 cup of corn, a bay leaf, a fist full of green beans...this is their soup, they come up with the ingredient list, including of course the Special ingredient from the story.

Leading up to the big day, different cultural versions of the Stone Soup story are read, original artistic place mats are created, the classroom is decorated with seasonal objects the children collect and arrange such as: acorns, colorful leaves, gourds, pumpkins etc., bread is made, songs are practiced. It's a wonderful time of anticipation. Stone Soup day, the children arrive with their soup contributions and full of excitement to be part of the process of making soup. What could be better than that?

They start the morning completing various tasks: table scrubbing, folding napkins, dusting, bread the soup is prepared: carrots are scrubbed, peeled and cut, potatoes too, broth starts to bubble, beans and pasta are added to the the tables are arranged, children carry chairs and put them around the table making sure every person has a seat, table cloths and napkins are put out, bowls, silverware, vases with flowers, place mats...when the soup is ready, everyone is invited to sit down and share the special (and delicious!) soup together. "It tastes soooo good"the children will say, "The best soup I've ever tasted!" "It's because of the Special Ingredient." I tell them. [The special ingredient for those of you who have not read the story is...'Sharing'.] Often parents will tell us that their child has never eaten veggie soup before this day. It's a wonderful day.

Okay, so maybe it's a little bit early to be talking about Stone Soup, it usual happens around the Thanksgiving holiday. But it helps me explain the importance of allowing children to be part of everyday life. They WILL rise to the occasion, you'll see. They will love every minute of it. And so will you.
[SEE my previous post: Prac
tical Life for a more detailed description or this area of a Montessori classroom]

International Peace Day

Dr. Montessori's son Mario Montessori once said, "During the formative period, when soft clay is being molded and impressions are easiest to make, children are impressed with the greatness of certain persons. Those persons may be described as heroes or supermen who have sacrificed their lives (literally or metaphorically) to a sacred cause. In every child's mind is fostered the desire to imitate those persons or become a follower of someone like them."
Who will our children's heroes be? Superman, GI Joe, Barbie, The Cast of the High School Musical? Or Martin Luther King Jr., Helen Keller, Nelson Mandela, Rachel Carson...Maria Montessori?
In my opinion we have a responsibility to our children to expose them to the amazing and inspiring men and women who have come before us, who have been role models, sources of inspiration and educators for many. On this the International Day of Peace, I ask you to evaluate who your children see images of, hear stories about, read about each day. Look around your home and see, are these peacemakers mentioned above represented in your home, in a book, on a poster?
My 9 year old son's bedroom has many inspiring pictures for him to look at. The largest of which is a painting, I painted, of Spiderman. I can't paint over it now, for he would be heartbroken but I can share with him about the peacemakers that inspire me and his father, and I can listen about why he likes Spiderman so much. I can hear his voice and I can listen. Then we can have a dialogue about heroes and the people we like and why. It's a starting place on this important day. I'll let you know how it goes. I hope this post encourages you to do the same.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Magic of Boxes

Recently my husband (and many wonderful friends and family) chipped in to buy me a Sleep Number bed! It was such a lovely thoughtful thing to do and I am very happy heading to bed each night now that I know my sleep number (it's 30 buy the way). Anyway, the bed arrived in several parts and in several BIG cardboard boxes.
My two younger boys were thrilled to have these new rooms to play in. Immediately these boxes were transformed into rockets and dog houses, it was amazing. The markers came out and windows were drawn in, a drooling dog was even seen peeking from the 'outside' looking in longingly, and a rug was colored in on the 'floor' of the new 'dog house' box, making it all very home like and inviting. And the rocket box (piloted by a plump toddler) shook and quaked (a bit too realistically for Mom), as my 9 year old's imagination took off!
I just gotta say, I love my bed but I love a nice big cardboard box too. It had been way too long since one had been around here. Boxes are an open-ended construction material, for young children, something becomes real just because they choose to use it that way. A box can be a car, a clubhouse, a spaceship, a cave. And a box allows kids total control over their own space with everything they love close at hand. Rooms can seem overwhelmingly large to someone 3 feet 3 inches tall.
So the next time you get the opportunity to bring a big box home, give your kids the box, break out the markers and imagination, who knows what your box will become! Don't forget to get inside the box yourself, you'll be so happy you did.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Becoming Butterflies:

From Wondertime:
Each September, children at Cornerspring Children's House have an opportunity to become monarch butterfly authorities. Autumn, as preschoolers (and adults) will learn, is a crucial time for these fliers, since that is when they head to Mexico and Southern California, where they set up shop for the winter before heading back home, laying eggs along the way. The classroom shelves are filled with butterfly works, songs and stories about butterflies fill up much of circle time. Butterflies are on everyone’s minds.

With this sensorial activity students have the opportunity to "become" butterflies themselves. They create a paper flower that has a cup in its center for nectar (a.k.a. apple juice or sweetened water), and then sip the nectar through a straw. Butterflies and moths feed through a strawlike proboscis, a flexible tongue that coils up when not in use. Really. Just ask any preschooler.

1. Cut the paper, felt, or fabric into 2-inch-long petals.

2.Use a glue stick to glue petals around the plate.

3.Cover the bottom of the cup with glue, and press it into the center of the flower for 30 seconds to make sure it sets. (If the cup has a recessed bottom, cover the bottom rim with glue instead.)

4.Use the straw (you can cut it in half for easier handling) to sip juice from the cup like a butterfly.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Hear the Children Day

It's coming up soon the International Day of Peace! Mark your calendars for September 18th and join myself and so many others in honoring this very special day.
In 1981 the united Nations designated the third Tuesday of September as the International Day of Peace. On this day each year the UN General Assembly opens with a Minute of Silence for world peace. In 1995, this day also became known as "Hear the Children Day". At 12 noon in schools all over the world children will take a minute of silence to observe this very special day. Teachers across the world will lead their students in this shared moment asking them to visualize a world of peace and plenty, enjoyed by all who share our planet. They will end this minute of silence by saying together, "May Peace Prevail on Earth."

What else can we do?
Below I have listed some suggestions of things you and your children could do together to honor this special day.
At Home:
  • Light a candle
  • Ring a chime or soft bell
  • Sing a peace song together
  • draw or color in silence or to soft classical music
  • take a nature hike in silence, record your observations and share them with one another when you get home.
Community ideas:
  • Visit a hospital or nursing home, bring cookies you baked together to brighten people's day
  • start a recycling drive
  • plant a peace pole
  • Inquire at your children's school if they observe this special day
  • volunteer at a house of worship
Enjoy Hear the Children day! And LISTEN.

"Each time you reach out to your children through words and actions, picture your reach far exceeding the walls of the home and classroom. Envision yourself impacting people all over through each interaction you have. And from this vantage point, know that each life you touch will in turn touch others, and this touching of human being may well be the beginning of peace for the whole world."---William Ryan

Friday, September 7, 2007

Who was Maria Montessori?

Maria Montessori, born in 1870, was the first woman in Italy to receive a medical degree. She worked in the fields of psychiatry, education and anthropology. She believed that each child is born with a unique potential to be revealed, rather than as a "blank slate" waiting to be written upon.

Maria Montessori was always a little ahead of her time. At age thirteen, against the wishes of her father but with the support of her mother, she began to attend a boys' technical school. After seven years of engineering she began premed and, in 1896 became a physician. In her work at the University of Rome psychiatric clinic Dr. Montessori developed an interest in the treatment of special needs children and, for several years, she worked, wrote, and spoke on their behalf.

In 1907 she was given the opportunity to study "normal" children, taking charge of fifty poor children of the dirty, desolate streets of the San Lorenzo slum on the outskirts of Rome. The news of the unprecedented success of her work in this Casa dei Bambini "House of Children" soon spread around the world, people coming from far and wide to see the children for themselves. Dr. Montessori was as astonished as anyone at the realized potential of these children:

Invited to the USA by Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, and others, Dr. Montessori spoke at Carnegie Hall in 1915. She was invited to set up a classroom at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco, where spectators watched twenty-one children, all new to this Montessori method, behind a glass wall for four months. The only two gold medals awarded for education went to this class, and the education of young children was altered forever.

During World War II Dr. Montessori was forced into exile from Italy because of her antifascist views and lived and worked in India. It was here that she developed her work Education for Peace, and developed many of the ideas taught in her training courses today. She was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Since her death in 1952 an interest in Dr. Montessori's methods have continued to spread throughout the world. Her message to those who emulated her was always to turn one's attention to the child, to "follow the child". It is because of this basic tenet, and the observation guidelines left by her, that Dr. Montessori's ideas will never become obsolete.

Many people, hearing of the high academic level reached by students in this system of education, miss the point and think that Montessori math manipulative (as an example) is all there is to the Montessori method. It is easy to acquire materials and to take short courses to learn to use them, but the real value of Montessori takes long and thorough training for the adult.

The potential of the child is not just mental, but is revealed only when the complete "Montessori method" is understood and followed. The child's choice, practical work, care of others and the environment, and above all the high levels of concentration reached when work is respected and not interrupted, reveal a human being that is superior not only academically, but emotionally and spiritually, a child who cares deeply about other people and the world, and who works to discover a unique and individual way to contribute. This is the essence of real "Montessori" work today.

The above is an exerpt from a handout I was given during my Montessori training. It is a limited account of an amazing woman's wealthy life. For more information about Dr. Montessori and the Montessori Method you can visit many of the inspiring links I have listed.

At the Children’s House I am privileged to be a part of, we strive to prepare the most natural and life supporting environment for children; continually adapting the environment in order that the children may fulfill their greatest potential -- physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. We follow the inspiring teachings of Dr. Montessori and aspire to provide the children with a space where they feel respected, important and loved.

Thank you Maria for inspiring so many and creating a method and philosophy that rings true in my heart.

Some Art ideas for small groups ages 3,4,5 years old

Anti-bias curriculum ideas:

  • Self portraits
  • frame and display throughout classroom
  • Using paint chips from a paint store help children to identify the colors closest to each child’s skin tone, hair color and eye color. Make a poster with the paint chips and the names of the children. ----maybe even graph curly/straight hair, boy/girl, children’s ages, favorite foods, books, colors--celebrate our differences and common threads.
  • Life size cut-outs: trace body, decorate, paint with skin tone paints, hang in classroom
  • Create a “We Come in Many Shades of Colors” book as a group, ask the children to help you arrange their drawings, paintings and photos.
  • Match children’s skin tones with paints, share with them the color of their skin according to crayola (Cinnamon, honey, peach etc.) make a hand print from each child and ask the children to tell you about themselves descriptively. Record their descriptions under their hand print and take photos of them to include in the finished book. Another idea for book title: “We All Look Special”
  • Send a note home asking for a family picture to illustrate the similarities & differences between families, create a bulletin board to share the “Classroom Family” include teacher's family photos too.
  • Graph eye colors of the classroom-create a chart
  • Read the book: All the Colors of the Earth by Sheila Hamanaka
  • Provide mirrors, all sizes, for the children to ‘take in’ their beautiful faces and shades of color.

Other art and craft ideas: Winter theme:

  • Wood gluing projects
  • Weaving
  • Salt dough crafts
  • Making bowls (& decorating them) for the Empty Bowl Project Story extension: Chicken Soup with Rice
  • Making snow flakes (great cutting work could be added to the classroom after art day)
  • Creating a winter scene painting: water color paint and before paint dries shake salt over picture. When the salt touches the damp paper it will crystallize and look like snowflakes!
  • building snow 'people' using circles of various sizes.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Spirit Play Lesson: 3 Part Matching

Liturgical Lesson: Spirit Play

The 6 Sources of the UU Faith

Material list:

Rug, basket, six mute cards (just symbols), six cards with words, six label cards


Watch carefully where I go to get this lesson.

The roots of our beliefs are called our Sources.

There are six of them that Unitarian Universalists have chosen.

Place star with spiral mute card at the top left of the rug.

Our beliefs come from our sense of wonder. We learn by asking why.

Place human figure with heart mute card under the first one, leave a little space between the two cards.

Our beliefs come from the women and men of long ago and today whose lives remind us to be kind and fair. We learn by hearing their stories.

Place world religion symbols mute card under the women and men card, leave space.

Our beliefs about how to live together come from all the world’s religions. We learn from many cultures.

Place the cross, Star of David inside a heart, mute card under the world religions card, leave space.

Our beliefs come from Jewish and Christian teachings that tell us to love all others as we love ourselves. We learn from our past history.

Place atom symbol mute card under the Jewish & Christian teachings card, leave space.

Our beliefs come from the use of reason and the discoveries of science. We learn by using our minds.

Place tree mute card as the last one, leave space between it and the science card.

Our beliefs come from the harmony of nature and the sacred circle of life. We learn by knowing we are a part of nature and the cycles of life.

1.) For a younger children: This can simply be a matching exercise, ask them to help you find the corresponding cards and make pairs. No need to bring out the labels unless they want to try and match them also.

2.) For older children (who can read or identify letters): This can be a 3 part matching work. Ask them to match the symbols and then to match the labels, and read the labels out loud.

3.) For readers and beyond: After the 3 part matching is complete the following wonder questions could begin a discussion about our 6 sources and their importance to our faith.

Cosmic Education

“Let us give the child a vision of the whole universe. . . for all things are part of the universe, and are connected with each other to form one whole unity.”

---Maria Montessori, To Educate the Human Potential

Children explore first the elements of the physical earth, then other living creatures, and finally other humans and themselves. Inherent in the whole study is the interconnectedness of all creation, the oneness of all things, and the relative newness of the human race.

While showing respect for the positions of others by explaining that evolution is a possible explanation of the origin of the world but that some people hold other beliefs, we are sensitive to the individual person with genuine respect for the community as a whole. The Montessori classroom provides the child with resources and materials that allow for exploration and discovery of the planet earth and of all of us who live on it.

Starting with the universe and spiraling inward, refining this large concept to the individual person, cosmic education, as does every other area of the Montessori curriculum; begins with the large and moves to the small. Exposure to the idea of the universe through Montessori’s Cosmic Education creates in the child an admiration and wonder for the stars, the earth, animals, and especially for one another.

Montessori placed great importance on Cosmic Education beginning with the miracle of the cosmos, filling children with a great sense of awe as one by one they encounter all the wonders of creation that proceed them in history. The most important point being that the child realizes that he or she has an important part to play in this picture.

It is through the daily exposure to different peoples, languages, cultural customs, foods and beliefs that our children develop compassion and an understanding of the differences and commonalities of all people. It is important to us as caregivers and teachers of young children, to aid in establishing a strong sense of classroom community. As each individual child feels respected and valued by others in the community, all gradually become comfortable in this family-like atmosphere.

“The key to community,” as Scott Peck writes in A Different Drum, “is the acceptance—in fact the celebration of our individual and cultural differences. Such acceptance and celebration. . . is also the key to world peace.”

We welcome all the children to share with the classroom community their personal ways of celebrating during this and every season throughout the school year. We believe that is it through the sharing of who we are as individuals, that we grow as a classroom community. We as teachers nurture the children to act cooperatively and encourage them to support one another and to express their delight in each other’s accomplishments. We honor each other’s voices and messages given and promote making choices that will benefit the group as a whole.

Each morning, we gather at circle and greet each other with a song. The circle itself is a wonderful symbol of community. It has no beginning or end, no front row or back row. Each sitting space is equal in rank, indicating that each person in the circle is equally important. It is our hope that the children look forward to gathering together, sharing their stories and thoughts and to learning along side one another. It is our goal to establish a loving, safe environment where our children can grow and develop, not only a love for learning, but love for one another and respect for their valuable place in the amazing cosmos.

*Resource: Nurturing the Spirit, by Aline D. Wolf

Lesson plan: Earth Air Fire Water

A song activity

Material list:

Rug, basket with purple lining, rolled white felt

4 laminated cards that read: Earth, Wind, Fire and Water

3 felt arrows

a rock, a pinecone, a feather, a bird, a cardboard sun, a candle, a bottle of water, a sea shell.

The words to the song written out and laminated.


"Watch carefully where I go to get this lesson. Ah, here it is…one of the stories about living in connection with our planet"

Unroll white felt and smooth across the rug. Next find the 4 cards in the basket

and name them as you place them in the four corners of the white felt.

Earth, air, fire, and water.

Those words are from a song…do you know a song that begins with Earth, Air, fire and water?

Hum the tune to give them a clue. Once the children recognize the song then ask different children to help you place the items as you sing the song.

Let’s sing the song together.

Could you put something that represents ‘water’ in this corner when we sing “water”?

And could you put an item that represents ‘fire’ in this corner when we sing “fire”?


Sing the song once through before laying objects. Once you are

Ready, sing the song a second time and add items as you sing

Montessori At Home

We communicate volumes about the way we feel about our children by the kind of home we create for them. By addressing their needs, including children in our family life and showing concern for their feelings and respect for their interests, we tell them how important they are to us.

Often parents will ask “How can I bring Montessori home?” here are some steps parents can take:

· Small children have a tremendous need and love for an orderly environment. Everything should have its own place, and the environment should be organized to make it easy for the child to maintain neat, tidy surroundings. This is what Montessori planned and put into practice in her original 'Children's Houses', which were the first Montessori classrooms, and many of her ideas can be used to make home more kid-friendly too.

· Let's start in the child's bedroom - ideally the young child's bed should be low to the floor, making it easy for them to get in and out on their own. Rather than confining a child to a cot, Montessori urged parents to modify the bedroom to make it safe for the child and yet foster her early independence. Consider a Japanese futon or a three foot mattress without the bed frame and, for the older child, a duvet to make bed-making simple for her to do herself.

· A few simple pieces of do-it-yourself can go a long way towards bringing Montessori home: Mount a little coat and hat rack low on one wall where your child can reach them easily and put a full-length mirror nearby. Modify your light switches with extenders to allow the young child to turn her lights on and off independently. Hang a bulitian board low on the wall so she can pin up art work, reminders and school papers. Don't use a toy box. Imagine the chaos in your kitchen or workshop if you threw your tools and utensils together in a chest. Instead, use low shelves to display books and toys. Avoid clutter by placing toys with many pieces in appropriate containers; such as Tupperware boxes, decorated shoe boxes, baskets or tins and use a sturdy crate or small laundry basket to hold your child's building blocks.

· You may want to create a model town or farm on a piece of heavy plywood. Paint it green and sprinkle model railway "grass" on it to simulate a meadow. Placed on a low table it can provide the basis for farm or zoo animals or be marked out with roads for toy cars or set with figures, trees, stations, etc, for a first railway set. Store Logo bricks by cutting a large circle of canvas and attaching Velcro fastenings on opposite edges and handles. Opened out, the bag serves as a mat where bricks can be sorted and selected; gathered up and fastened it clears up the clutter instantly and can be taken anywhere. Decorate the walls with high quality art prints of children and animals hung at the child's eye level. Select a wall clock with a large, and easy-to-read face and mount that the same height.

· Make sure drawers are at the right height for the child to open them and look inside. Label them "underwear," "socks," etc or stick on pictures for the very young child. Provide some shelf space or low table for a beauty and wonder collection where your child can display special rocks, interesting seeds and small creatures, but make sure she liberates the creepy-crawlies after she has thoroughly examined them. Encourage her to have flowers and plants in her room. Music should be an important part of every child's life. Make space for a simple stereo or cassette player and a collection of recordings. In the bathroom make sure your child can reach the sink and toilet by providing a booster step and have a special place within reach for her towel, washcloth, toothbrush and paste.

· Some children rarely paint or make crafts at home because parents fear a mess. All that is needed is a small area with a washable floor or even a carpet covered with a sheet of plastic and a degree of trust that your Montessori child will soon know how to use it properly. Add an easel with non-spill pots of separate colors or cover the kitchen table with a washable cloth for drawing, craft work and clay. Again store art supplies: washable marker pens, crayons, glue sticks, paper, fabric scraps and recycled household items for collage and construction - in plastic containers and trays on low shelves so she will be able to order and return them to their right places on her own.

· In the kitchen try to find space for a child-sized work table for young cooks. Set aside the bottom shelf of your refrigerator to store healthy juice boxes, fruit and the ingredients for making sandwiches and snacks (peanut butter, jams, cold meat, cheese and spreads, stored in unbreakable containers). Even a two-year-old can be trusted to open the fridge to get her own prepared snack or cold drink stored in a little cup.

· If they are introduced to jobs with encouragement and allowed to see then through themselves, children from age two to six delight in caring for their home, dusting, mopping, scrubbing, cleaning and polishing. Aid the process by giving your child her own little broom or sweeper; hang a feather duster on a hook and provide a hamper for her dirty clothes. Show her how to wipe round the sink in the bathroom with a small scrub sponge. Folding towels and napkins is another activity to teach a young child. Use a bottom drawer to hold cutlery and a low shelf for crockery so your child can help to lay the table and put things away.

These are just a few suggestions for bringing Montessori into your home. As always follow your child’s lead to make discoveries about who they are and what they enjoy, although providing the appropriate safe space with choices (you provide) can make the childhood/parenthood journey allot less bumpy. Enjoy one another. PEACE

Practical Life

When I visualize the areas of the Montessori classroom, I see a tree in my mind’s eye. A tall and beautiful tree with many branches, perhaps an oak or baobab tree. A tree that has a strong root system beneath the grass at the base, many roots like thick and sturdy fingers to support the girth of the trunk and the weight of the branches. The roots and base of the tree is the area of Practical Life.

The exercises in Practical Life are the foundation of Montessori education. When the children come into the classroom, they take off their shoes, place them under the bench, put on their slippers and enter the familiar world of Everyday Living. Through purposeful work, such as, pouring themselves a glass of water to quench their own thirst, washing clean a table they used for manipulating playdough, sweeping up slivers of cut paper, the child is nurturing within themselves the aims of the Practical Life area. The child is developing an inner sense of order, coordination, their ability to concentrate, gaining a greater sense of independence, as well as nurturing the development of their self esteem. It is through the process of meeting their own needs, caring for others, the classroom environment and materials, that children begin to learn how to learn.

The object of Montessori education is to nurture a love for learning. It is through the exercises of Practical Life that children are given the foundation, or the roots, which they need to grow and blossom on this journey. The exercises of Practical Life, such as preparing food for the enjoyment and nourishment of one’s self and others, taking care of spilled liquids, or polishing tarnished metal until it shines and you can see your face reflected in it. These exercises are opportunities for self discovery, self mastery, and self esteem. It is through care of one’s self that the children learn not only to recognize their own needs, but also the needs of others around them. Montessori said, “It is interesting to see how little by little, the children become aware of forming a community which behaves as such. . . Once they have reached this level, the children no longer act thoughtlessly, but put the group first and try to succeed for its benefit.”

Because children absorb unconsciously from their surroundings the importance of the prepared environment becomes paramount in the Montessori classroom. The prepared environment of the practical life area is uncluttered, inviting, home like, clean and orderly. The furniture is appropriately sized to meet the needs of the children, and the materials are beautiful and call to the child to be held, explored and mastered.

The most important aspect of the prepared environment is the emotional climate; “a fearful child can not learn” and so the classroom should be both prepared with appropriate materials and also with clearly defined ground rules, understanding, consistency and love.

Just as a tree can not grow without rain and sunlight our children will not feel the freedom to grow without a nurturing environment. It is magical to watch the young child, who has a clear and confident grasp on the classroom ground rules, begin to risk take and explore works and activities he would before only admire from a far.

Montessori said, “In our schools we give everything needed so that the child can imitate the actions he sees in his own home. But we have implements specially made for him, of the right size to suit his diminutive proportions and strength.”

A child should not string beads, pound nails into clay, or wash a table top clean because he is awaiting a gold star or words of praise from his teacher. Within the Montessori classroom it is intrinsic motivation that we encourage; it is the process rather than the product that we support and promote as teachers. It is a goal of the practical life area for children to discover that mistakes are not something to be feared, but rather opportunities to learn from experience. When the child is confident in their ability to clean up a spill they are more likely to attempt to pour.

When Dr. Montessori began her Casa Dei Bambini in 1907 she designed the classroom materials to meet the developmental needs of the children ranging in age from three to six years old. Based on her many hours of observation, Dr. Montessori created exercises and activities she called “work”. A child’s play is their work within the Montessori classroom. The exercises are arranged in a sequence designed by Dr. Montessori with the above mentioned aims in mind. Materials are always presented from left to right and from the top to the bottom, large items before small, gross motor to fine motor development, with the use of dry materials before introducing liquid ones, few materials to many, simple to complex, skills in isolation to skills in combination, and with the use of hand before the addition of tools.

Within the Practical Life area there are five physical skills found in everyday living, and they are: pouring, scooping and spooning, twisting, lacing and stringing and squeezing. The basic elements of these activities are purposeful yet simple, arranged in an orderly manner, with allowance for the child to control his/her own error, and to repeat if desired.

In closing, in my mind’s eye the beautiful strong tree from the roots on up, nurtures the children as they grow and learn. The Montessori classroom, is this wonderful climbing tree, it holds such treasures for our children. Within the strong branches of this tree the child is set free to create, imagine, and ultimately master the very process of learning.

Where in the World?


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