Teaching about “practical life”

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Another amazing thing Montessori figured out is that children need/love to be taught self-care/real world skills.  She called this “Practical Life” and it is actually an area of the curriculum, like Language and Math.

And why not?  At each stage of life, don’t we like people to gently tell/show us how to do something new, instead of fussing at us when we screw it up?  This week at camp, we had to remember to teach the junior counselors how to make juice from frozen concentrate for popsicles and how to wash dishes.  Is it shocking that they don’t know, or is it normal that families now buy juice fresh and have dishwashers?  As I’m sure you can tell, it shocked me at first, growing up, as I did, in the Black and White Era, I forget these things.  And then Montessori invites me to remember what it is like not to know.

And, when it is presented as “look at this”, practical life is fun to practice. “Pouring works” are always popular (see picture above:)), and so are cooking skills, cleaning skills, folding and putting away things skills…if they are taught and not fussed about.  Later, there are more skills: how to check the oil in your car, how to save money in a painless way, how to buy life insurance, how to buy a house.  It would be nice if someone taught us these things.

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A different way of learning

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I love this picture for lots of reasons: because of who took it, the children in it and the fact that they are fascinated, not by me, but by what I am doing. (“What is she doing?, you ask.  This is our little preschool “graduation”, and I came up with a metaphorical activity to try to show that we will never forget them.  They add colored sand to a bowl of sand that we use every year.  They have added their “color” to our memories of Mary’s School.  What they love?  Putting their hands in the sand. :))

I have had parents ask, in the grocery store: “Is this lady someone you would like as your teacher?”  Oh, dear, what am I to say, or do, to deserve that?  Children love attractive young people, and I am past that! Otherwise, I look like any other lady.  What is there to love?

BUT, as when we go to Montessori training, they tell us that we are only 1/3 of the equation; it is: children, environment, teacher.  Our main job is to set up the environment. If the environment works, the children are happy.  It certainly has nothing to do with how I look!

So, the teacher sets up the environment (actually, Montessori called us “guides”, which is a cool term, but hasn’t caught on.), for safety, for interest, to stretch children, to entice them, to comfort them, to allow them to be together AND apart, to allow them to move, to have structure to give them support, to teach them how to interact, to allow them to take care of their own needs…lots of things to consider.  So, if it doesn’t work, we move things around, take things away, have more lessons on how things work.

So, all the children came to sit with me to see what I was doing. That is how it works in a Montessori classroom: they want to be part of what is happening.  They want it.  We invite them, and they come.  (And if they don’t want it, yet, they don’t have to do it. But that’s another story.)

And that is a different way of learning.