The dressing frames are a series of small picture frames with fabric on which has been mounted the various ways we connect our clothes. One frame has a jacket zipper, another buttons, another shoe buckles, another snaps, and another bows. By placing this work on a table with large, easy-to-use parts, the child is able to perfect the skills needed to dress himself.
In the frame for bow tying, each side of the lace to be tied is a different color so that the child can see clearly what he is doing. He can practice as long as he wishes to reinforce his self-confidence in caring for himself. Attention is focused on this matter most important to the child and manual dexterity is improved as the child perfects himself.
At home, allow your child lots of time to dress himself. Show him very slowly how to perform the various tasks in dressing himself. When he has difficulty or becomes frustrated, encourage him as you offer your help. Use words like “That’s a really hard zipper to get started”, ”Buttons give me a hard time, too”, or “You got your socks on really fast this morning.”
Carrying is a critical lesson in the child’s education. Whether he carries a chair, a tray with materials, or a large piece of equipment where he must have the help of a friend, he is taught how to move carefully and quietly through his environment. The most important lesson is how to set the equipment down quietly. Even when a glass pitcher on a glass tray is set on the shelf, the object is to do it with no sound. It takes a lot of concentration for the young child to carry material on a tray without spilling, without bumping, and without making any noise. Allow your child to walk slowly and carefully. Praise him when he walks without bumping or when a toy is laid down carefully. Practice yourself walking slowly and talking softly. You are your child’s most important role model. He wants to do everything just the way you do it. Soft voices and relaxed body movements make the environment a nice place to be.
The child uses sharp scissors such as embroidery scissors to cut first simple lines and then more complex shapes. He is taught how to pass the scissors and how to carry them. He is never allowed to misuse the equipment. The motor development involved in using scissors is quite difficult for the young child and he is delighted when he masters this most common tool. As soon as the child masters cutting card stock, he is taught to cut paper, and then thread. At home, provide your child with good scissors. Children’s scissors are usually difficult for adults to use. They can be particularly frustrating for a child who is just learning to cut. Show your child where to work, what to cut, and how to clean up. This establishes your rules for using the scissors. If the rules are not followed, do not allow yourself to feel angry or guilty about putting the scissors away for another time.
When the child is shown how to cut food, he is also provided with excellent tools and is taught how to use them correctly. A paring knife and a cutting board are provided. If the food is to be peeled or grated, these tools are also included. A small bowl for washing the food, a bowl to serve the food, and a container for waste material are provided as appropriate. Each step is demonstrated carefully and slowly. All the tools and parts of the food being prepared are named. Cleanup is an important part of this work.
At home, your child will be able to prepare many more foods than you might be willing to let him prepare. Allow him to contribute to the family in this way. Give him excellent tools to use and demonstrate what your expectations are. Then allow the child a lot of time. His purpose in preparing food is the process of cutting or stirring or spreading. It is not the end product of having food for the family meal. Arrange your schedule so that there is adequate time without having to rush.
Practical life exercises are the foundation of the Montessori classroom. All other areas flow directly from this base. One of the most fundamental exercises of practical life is table washing. Its purposes are three-fold. First, it helps the child to feel secure and at ease in her surroundings. Young children even before they enter the classroom have a compelling desire to know about and participate in the environment in which they live. If she sees her mother dusting and vacuuming, she wants to dust and vacuum also. If she sees her father mowing the grass or shaving, the child also imitates these activities. Some mysterious inner drive moves her to become a purposeful member of the society into which she was born. Table washing offers the child an opportunity to be purposeful, to participate meaningfully in her environment. The table is dirty; “I can make it clean.” It allows her independence. Having accomplished a meaningful task independently, the child feels good about herself, capable and at ease with how things are done in this world.
The second purpose of table washing is to offer the child possibility for gross and fine movement that can be refined. Pouring water without spilling, scrubbing large and small areas of the table, getting the soap off, drying the table, discarding the dirty water, and refolding the floor cloth gives the child many opportunities to perfect her motor skills. This refined motor control is a direct preparation for the more advanced work of the classroom.
The third purpose of table washing is to develop the ability to concentrate. Beginning exercises of practical life are simple and call for short periods of concentration. There is a gradual buildup in complexity of tasks which call the child to longer periods of intense effort. Table washing is a very complex task, setting the tools out in a precise order, step-by-step washing, rinsing and drying the table, and cleaning up and replacing the material. This ability to carry out such a complex task with skill, attention to detail, and concentrated effort prepares the child directly for advanced work in the classroom. Each task not only meets the developmental needs of the child, but it also prepares her for a more complex task that lies ahead. Having been prepared, the child meets with many successes in her growth towards maturity. These successes in turn leave her with a healthy self-esteem and a feeling of accomplishment.
The equipment consists of a small tray with two pitchers. One is approximately half full of rice, beans, or water. The dry ingredients are used when the lesson is first introduced. Liquid is used as the child advances. The purpose of this work is to develop eye/hand coordination necessary for pouring, to teach the child how to work neatly, and to teach self-reliance in cleaning up after himself. There are several extensions. The liquid may be poured through a tiny funnel or two different sizes or shapes of pitchers may be used to teach the child that volumes don’t change even though the shape may change. Opaque pitchers may be used to allow the child to focus only on the pouring or one large pitcher may be used to pour into several small glasses to teach the child to stop pouring before the glass overflows.
The child is taught names of all parts of this work; handle, spout, drop, and funnel. At home, you can allow your child to pour. Be sure that the pitcher is not too heavy for him and that the working space is at the correct height. Give him the materials he will need to clean up any spills. Do not hover about the child as he works. He will be most delighted if he is allowed to pour drinks for the family or for his friends.
The child is taught to wash his hands, a table top, cloths, and how to mop. When the lessons are presented, each step is presented in exactly the same sequence. If a child forgets how to complete the lesson, it is presented again in exactly the same way. These are long lessons. Hand washing has 59 individual steps. Amazingly, the child will follow most of them with few reminders. He is shown how to assemble all the material before he begins. Each tool is sized to allow him to handle it easily. Buckets to carry water are not so big that he cannot carry them. Sinks are at his height. Cloths are small enough for his hands to wring out and soap is a size that fits nicely into his palm. Each piece of the material is named for him as it is presented. After the lesson, the child is shown how to replace all the equipment so that it is ready to be used again. Fresh towels are put out, each tray and table top is dried, and dirty cloths are put in the basket to be laundered.
These lessons have many objectives. The length of the lessons increase the child’s attention span and teach sequence of activities. The child comes into control of his muscles. He learns independence, responsibility, and self esteem by being able to contribute to the care of his environment.
At home, allow your child to work with water. Children love to help and to make their environment beautiful. Demonstrate what your expectations are and then allow the child to do it. An important part of this lesson is the cleanup. If the cleanup really is not acceptable to you, show the child again how to do it better. Patience and tolerance here are virtues. Encouragement for how hard he worked, for how much drier the floor is this time, and for how happily he worked will motivate your child to want to work with you more often.
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