Using the child’s natural inclinations as a point of departure, Dr. Montessori structured several exercises for the classroom to help the child satisfy their need for meaningful activity. For these exercises, she used familiar objects – buttons, brushes, dishes, pitchers, water and many other things, which the child recognizes from his home experience.
For the young child, there is something special about tasks which an adult considers ordinary – washing dishes, paring vegetables, and polishing shoes. They are exciting to the child because they allow him to imitate adults. Imitation is one of the child’s strongest urges during his early years. These skills fall primarily into the areas of food preparation, care of the self, care of the environment, and grace, courtesy, and community service.
Although the Practical Life Exercises may seem simple and commonplace, they are actually a very important part of the Montessori program. Each of the tasks helps the child to perfect his sequencing, organizing, and coordination skills so that he will be able to work later with the more intricate academic materials. No learning takes place without concentration and attention. The child prepares to learn by performing exercises which help him to gradually lengthen the time in which he can focus his attention on a specific activity.
Apple coring is just one example of the many food preparation activities available in the Montessori classroom. For each activity, the student prepares a small amount of food, places it on a plate, and then offers it to fellow students and visitors. Other examples of food preparation include making orange juice, bread and bagel toasting, and cutting foods such as cheese, bananas, carrots, celery, and cucumbers.
Care of environment activities encourage the child to interact with the environment, exhibiting respect and love. These activities help the child form a connection with their environment, in which they find a personal responsibility towards it. Activities such as dish washing, watering plants, scrubbing cloths, weeding the garden, and grinding bird seed call to the child and offer much towards development of the personality. Caring for the environment (both inside and outdoors) fosters a passion for and a sense of responsibility to the world we live in.
The dressing frames are an important part of the care of the self exercises. Each frame isolates one skill of dressing and offers the child the opportunity to perfect this skill by repeating the motion over and over, thus helping her to become independent in dressing herself. There is one frame for each of the following: buttons, snaps, zipper, pins, buckles, laces, hooks and eyes, and bows to be tied. The frame which features bow-tying has two different colored ribbons so that when giving assistance the teacher can say, “Put the black one around the white one,” rather than saying, “Put this one around that one.”
Grace, Courtesy, and Community Service
Learning how to work and play together with others in a peaceful and caring community is perhaps the most critical life skill that Montessori teaches. These lessons teach everyday social customs, such as how to enter a room, not to disturb another’s work, how to ask if you may join in an activity, how to graciously decline an invitation, table manners, and how to offer an apology. Learning how to greet someone graciously is one of the first acts of courtesy learned in the Montessori classroom. Even the youngest child is treated by her teachers and classmates with dignity and respect, and the everyday example of the older children behaving graciously reinforces the lessons in kindness.