In accordance with Montessori philosophy, an important function of an Elementary Montessori educator is to give students explicit lessons in practical life. Practical life lessons encompass what we do each day to sustain our own health and to maintain a positive relationship with our immediate community and society at large. Practical life work is important and beneficial for the elementary Montessori student, as it meets the needs of a child in the second plane of development and it develops the skills necessary for defining and finding one’s own unique, specific role in society.
Upper Elementary students routinely go outside of the classroom to extend their studies. Procedures for going out as well as expected behavior while outside of the classroom are explained to Upper Elementary students. Topics may include Grace and Courtesy while planning a going out (phone manners), how to speak to a docent or guide, how to behave at a museum etc., how to read a map, how to ask for directions, how to behave on public transportation, how to order food at a restaurant, and how to follow up your visit with a thank you note to your expert guide or docent.
Children in the second plane of development differ from first plane children in a number of ways, and the practical life curriculum speaks to these differences. The second plane is “a period for the acquisition of culture, just as the former was for the absorption of the environment” (Montessori, 1989, p. 3). The practical life curriculum delivers lessons in the acquisition of culture that are now of great interest to the child.
Practical life work develops real life skills that can be used immediately and routinely during real life experiences in an effective way. This empowering experience of mastering real life skills builds confidence in the second plane child. This development of social confidence provides a very effective model to the child for their developing academic skills and confidence. The sense of responsibility developed in practical life easily translates to academic responsibility. Students who make and follow a weekly work plan clearly know that what they plan and what they do is important and effective. Other academic skills developed through work in practical life include increased focus, lengthened attention span, improved problem-solving and critical thinking.
Practical Life work develops skills necessary for establishing and maintaining a positive relationship with the community and with society. The delivery of the Montessori curriculum, including the practical life curriculum, serves a critical social need.
An extremely important social task lies before us: activating man’s value, allowing him to attain the maximum development of his energies, truly preparing him to bring about a different form of human society on a higher plane. (Montessori, 1992, p. xiii)
The practical life curriculum effectively contributes to activating the self-value of the second plane child. Lessons in going out afford him authentic, real world experiences, validating the importance of his role within society.
Montessori, M. (1989). To educate the human potential. Oxford: ABC-Clio Ltd.
Montessori, M. (1992). Education and peace. Oxford: ABC-Clio Ltd.
I often hear beautiful and excited voices in the hallway at TMS, “Today is art, Ms. Cooper!” There is magic, freedom and play in art. Art helps children develop many fundamental skills such as creativity, problem-solving, confidence, visual learning, motor movement and coordination, focus, collaboration and perseverance, just to name a few. These skills are extremely important to develop as they are needed for all of their academic work and life skills.
In art class there are two different types of experiences. The first one is a process art experience where the child engages in art by exploring the materials, thinking about how to put these together and expressing him/herself to create art. This encourages exploration and imagination. In this case, no two pieces of artwork in the class will be similar as children internalize and focus on expressing who they are within those materials. There is a magical flow between the child and the materials in use.
The second is a product art experience where the child follows directions given to create a predetermined end product such as a color wheel. This art experience is important because it balances the creative process with the technical process of different techniques available for them to express freely. I like to compare this process to learning a language. The more words (“techniques”) you learn, the better you will express (“create”) and communicate what you want to say. In this case, the result of the artwork is similar to one another for there is no room for the creative process and imagination to engage.
These two art experiences support children’s development in different ways. One triggers and sustains their natural freedom of imagination and creativity, and the other develops the discipline of following instructions and developing motor skills necessary for any variety of art form such as printmaking, painting, moulding, etc.
At TMS, art class is a time to express, explore, imagine, think outside the box, socialize, collaborate, and learn from observation. Keeping the child’s imagination and creative natural instinct alive is fundamental for their development now and into the future.
Samuel Beckett once noted, “You’re on earth. There’s no cure for that.”
As educators we constantly work to help students develop problem solving skills. The freedom and responsibility as well as the social nature of the Montessori elementary classroom allows students to practice these skills on a daily basis. The children recognize that problem solving is a necessary life skill and understand that while at school, they always have the right and the responsibility to take steps to solve problems of all natures.
A spilled drink is taken care of with a towel and a mop, while interpersonal conflict is solved through conversation – many times it is discovered that a simple miscommunication is to blame! Class meetings serve to empower the children to notice and solve problems which affect the classroom community as a whole. The students meet to offer comments and possible solutions regarding the issue at hand.
The Elementary age child is building a life for himself outside of his family and home as he becomes increasingly independent. This means that while we as adults can offer support, we must allow the child the freedom to work towards solving his or her own problems.
The following article offers useful tips for what you as a parent can do to equip your children with the tools they will need to be successful problem solvers: