Introduction to The Exercises of Practical Life

When the infant enters the Prepared Environment of the Children’s House they do so with accomplishments in Communication, the Mathematical Mind, Sensorial Awareness and Co-ordination.  They are able to walk, talk, carry objects and care for themselves, they have absorbed many daily activities which take place in the home.  At two and a half the child’s Sensitive Period for order is at it’s peak and she has strong tendencies towards work, imitation, repetition and self perfection which compels her developed Horme and ego  to act.  She wishes to explore, adapt to and contribute to her environment and society, which she has an intrinsic love for.  Therefore the Directress begins by helping the infant at two and a half years connect with domestic tasks, using materials appropriate for her size, dexterity and need for beauty.  The Children’s House provides a social community for the child to see older peers carry out these activities with ease and gain assistance from, if a few children have joined the class together they benefit from learning alongside others.  As these exercises follow from the spontaneously arising needs in the child they are eagerly pursued and quickly grasped.

Being given tools to complete activities demonstrates to the infant a respect for her interests and a belief in her capacity to achieve which builds her self-esteem and will, as well as her independence and joy at contributing to her community and ordering her environment.  The child is old enough to listen with attention to the description of common objects, the skills needed to use them and their purpose.  The Directress uses a clear voice, with mature vocabulary to build the child’s Communication skills.  The activities associated with Practical Life also stimulate and further co-ordinate her movements and the senses, which in turn further integrate the Mathematical Mind.  Children shown these materials and allowed the freedom to work with them will show eager concentration, allowing for the normalisation process to occur and after being able to satisfy their curiosity will leave them happy, content and reenergised for further work.  These activities also function as ways to remove injuries and early malajustments which may have occurred to the infant at home when she tried to work without the help of a specialist who fully understood her needs as an Absorbent being.

The Montessori adult grants the infant particular freedoms within discipline; the infant has the freedom to follow her inner guide, at her own pace, to repeat and to try to overcome difficulties by herself, with assistance given only when necessary, she has the freedom to work without being disturbed, but can observe and be watched unobtrusively by others, the freedom to choose where to work and who to work with, to decline a demonstration or request one and to follow the demonstration or vary it.  These freedoms are given because the child is more aware of her developmental needs and how to materialise them than the adult.

The concept of work is different to an adult than a child, when the adult uses these materials in the home they are focused on the result of the action and getting the labour completed as quickly as possible, this causes mechanical, absent minded activity.  The child however is not goal oriented and efficiency means nothing to her, she is motivated to develop not a mundane task but her own self and to meet her needs and gain independence, so the task is a welcome, joyous one, it is carried out creatively.  The activity gives purpose to the infants earlier milestones, hand-eye co-ordination is used to learn to pour, the convergence of limbs is necessary to carry a bucket of water, the nervous system and intellect are further enhanced by the practice the materials offer and so to meet the continuous refinement of movement the challenges must become more taxing.  Through these actions the infant manifests her spirit and her personality is felt in the world.

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The objects are culturally adapted to fit a child’s environment and to stir her interest, once fixed she repeats, concentrating only on this process, to the exclusion of other environmental stimulus, the completion of an activity is empowering and propels her forward.

Groups of Exercises of Practical Life

The Elementary Movements are parts of other complex activities used by the youngest children and new ones to help to make them aware of their movements, senses and as illustrations to their capacities to work with precision and concentration.  The Elementary Movements can be introduced individually or to three or four children at a time, while  other Exercises of Practical Life are shown individually, parts of the demonstration can be done by the child once they know it or by older children.  The gradual introduction to Practical Life by showing the Elementary Movements allows one difficulty at a time to be mastered, so that the child is competent at carrying water, unrolling a mat, drying a vase and opening and closing bottles before she is asked to integrate these movements into larger tasks.  ‘Walking on the Line’ and later the ‘The Silence Activity’ are whole group activities which fall under this category as the line activity helps to co-ordinate with precision while ‘The Silence Activity’ introduces the child to inhibiting movements.

Care of Person activities include the washing of hands, peeling a banana, lacing shoes, fastening buttons, they contribute to independence, co-ordination, order and orientation.

Care of the Environment activities include cleaning the table, wiping the windows, mopping the floor or sweeping up crumbs, these also build on the above tendencies and formally introduce social cohesion and gregariousness.

Grace and Courtesy activities give the child an understanding into his societies norms which are rarely overtly shown in detail, but are very important in her adapting with confidence.  Children are shown the correct way to sneeze, blow their noses, receive a guest, answer questions and ask an adult for attention.  These activities are given in anticipation of needs which will arise, rather than chastising the child for culturally inappropriate behaviours.

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