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“The child is by nature a worker, and when, by working in this special fashion, which is according to his nature, he can accomplish a great deal of work without ever feeling fatigued. When he works in this way he shows himself to be happy and by working in this way he also becomes cured of certain psychic anomalies that he had, and by curing himself of these he enters into a more natural form of life.” (Maria Montessori, ‘Child’s Instinct to Work’)
Writing a post on Practical Life is probably one of the most difficult ones to do, due to the incredible amount of very practical, detailed, and knowledgeable information available on the internet. However, I would like to take a different spin on it and do a sneak peek into the past. 50 or 60 years ago it was generally accepted for children, as young as one year of age, to help around the house and perform simple but very purposeful tasks.
For example, young children used to contribute to planting potatoes by following their parents who dug the hole in the ground and throwing it into holes. It helped to create a sense of belonging from a very young age.
In comparison, today, parents are not as patient, everything needs to be done quickly and efficiently. As a result, children find ways to become destructive, because their need to be involved in learning early to perform real-life activities is not met. On the other hand, when children learn to be engaged in helping around the house, they gain a feeling of accomplishment, stronger self-esteem, and confidence.
I would like to share how we allow our toddler to play her part in our everyday life, my experience in the classroom and give some suggestions for different Practical Life exercises.
I found that the best way to allow the child to engage in practical life activities at home – is to follow their lead. To be honest, it was not easy for me to do. But I decided not to push and follow her clues. And surprise! It worked! I placed her special tools around the house next to mine, and whenever I started doing something, she happily picked them up and allowed me to show her how to use them.
1. Mopping is her favorite. Gee… I wish these favorites would stick with them till they are teenagers.
In the classroom setting, one of the favorite cleaning activities – is the washing exercise:
A child brings water in a bucket – pours water into a bowl – puts a little bit of soap onto the scrub brush – scrubs the table – takes a wet sponge and wipes soap off the table with a left-to-right movement – dries the table with a hand towel – pours soapy water back into the bucket and carries it to the bathroom or outside.
2. When A was younger – she used to grab a cloth and walk around the house wiping everything that caught her attention. Now, since she is a bit older, she is encouraged to dry and clean her spills.
3. Working with a dustpan is still a bit tricky at the age of two.
4. Window cleaning is usually one of the first practical life activities that young children can master quite quickly and do on their own – around 18 months of age.
5. I love using a mini mortar and pestle for practical life in the kitchen. It can be very helpful. Children from an early age can start practicing crushing all sorts of things, like eggshells, rock salt, pomegranate seeds, black pepper, wheat bix, and biscuits. So much fun and a great learning opportunity – learning to apply pressure, the opportunity to observe “cause and effect”, etc.
6. Cutlery sorting is great. My miss A takes so much pride in accomplishing this task every morning.
7. Cooking together at this stage can be quite challenging. In my experience, grating, juicing, peeling, and baking together have the best effect when it is done in the morning or around lunchtime, unless, of course, your child has mastered most of these skills and can access tools without any help.
8. These are the simple tasks that beauty A does in the kitchen. Whenever I see an opportunity for her to get involved – I invite her to participate.
9. Spreading butter (jam, Vegemite, cream cheese, etc.) on ca racker.
- Collecting dry clothes
- Taking care of self
These are only a very FEW examples of practical life learning experiences we had in our classroom.
13. Damper baking. This activity was on-demand ALL THE TIME. We were very fortunate to have a mini oven in our classroom. On the wall, children could see a step-by-step presentation of the damper-making process and had access to all the ingredients.
After that child could enjoy their damper with a choice of butter or jam.
- Taking care of the classroom. Children were encouraged to sweep the floor and their table after each mealtime.
- Plant dusting – taught children great hand control and being gentle with the living things.
- Taking care of the classroom pet – changing newspapers, cleaning feeding dishes, replacing food and water.