“She [Dr. Montessori] described this environment as a nourishing place for the child. It is designed to meet his needs for self-construction and to reveal his personality and growth pattern to us…Not only must it contain what the child needs in a positive sense, but all obstacles to his growth must be removed from it as well.” ( Lillard, Montessori A Modern approach, Chap 3, The Montessori Method, page 50)
Why am I quoting Montessori here? Because I want to introduce our new Practical Life activity to you all: using a brush and dustpan. Many of you who have a Montessori preschool or are following the Montessorian guidelines would probably have this type of activity on your shelf. Yet, I can see a few eyebrows frowning among my preschool parents. Don’t worry, I am not actually teaching your kids to clean the classroom…. though that could be an idea!!! Mind you, they have been polishing my silver for the past 6 months, so why not?
Joke aside, the activity I just mentioned is actually quite important and representative of what the Practical Life exercises are all about (or many of them anyway!). Dr. Montessori once referred to a child on a beach with a shovel in hand. Suddenly, the child starts digging without being asked. The child makes mistakes as he uses the shovel but keeps trying as he digs into the sand again and again and again. By constant repetition of the motions, the child strengthens his muscles, perfects his coordination, and gains confidence in a particular skill. No one had told the child that he had to shovel sand; it was instinctive, natural. Dr. Montessori used this natural inclination of the child to structure several classroom exercises (Practical Life) to help the child satisfy the need for meaningful activity.
So you may think that learning how to use a brush and dustpan is meaningless. Wrong! These types of simple exercises, performed by all adults on a daily basis, are at the basis of the practical life curriculum. The adults’ purpose for doing those daily tasks is purely conservative and utilitarian. But a child is attracted to them because they are constructive and help to his development. Since birth, the child has been observing his man-made environment and as he/she grows up, he/she offers to help. Why? Because these tasks promote order, independence and offer freedom (freedom to work as long as he/she wants to, freedom to do it on his own, freedom to repeat the exercise whenever he/she wants to).
So here is what I did. Using coloured electrical tape, I taped a square at the bottom of a plastic tray.
I placed coffee beans in a pot and added a dustpan and brush to the tray. I showed the children how to spill the beans on the tray,
then gather them inside the square with the brush and use the dustpan to put them back into the pot.
Simple but very effective. They are queuing for this new activity now and it is a pleasure to see them practice their skills in courtesy too!!