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The Montessori Ethos

The Montessori ethos has always been an important part of our work with nursery school children. Her ideas on self discipline and self motivation have a great deal to offer in today’s world. Dr. Montessori was born in 1870. Having decided on a medical career and having mastered the natural sciences, she obtained at the University of Rome an M.D. at the age of 26 years, distinguishing herself by securing a double honours degree as a Doctor of Medicine and a Doctor of Surgery. This was in 1896, Dr. Montessori being the first woman in Italy, and probably one of the few women in Europe at that time to become a Doctor in the Faculty of Medicine.

Practical Life activities, these are so very sensible! These are the activities that we, as parents, so often expect our child to just know and of course they don’t; they need to practice, to ‘work at it’. Simple expectations, the phrase “Let’s tidy up”…, how? how do we put the books back? how do we tidy a puzzle tray? these are everyday things that we learn through life, Montessori believed that children of Nursery age could learn life skills through everyday activities and enjoy them!

These activities include, pouring from jugs, balancing a tray, spooning items from one place to another, learning to deal with buttons, zips, clothes, shoes, screws on jars, keys, so many everyday activities, so practical for today’s world, yet conceived over a century ago. The practical life materials are the most important pieces of apparatus in the classroom environment. They meet the child’s need for movement and help the child to focus his mind on what his body is doing.

Certain activities in this area focus on the coordination of self, on the development of poise and balance and the coordination of body parts. Other exercises have as their main concern the care of self. Still other exercises centre upon the care of the environment.

Finally, there are exercises in social behaviour, exercises which help the child to learn how to relate to his peers and to adults. Activities in this area parallel activities which the child is experiencing in the home. The child learns how to dress himself, pour liquids, polish shoes, say “please” and “thank you”, and other practical activities of daily living.

As the child acquires skill in the practical life exercises he is able to immediately apply his knowledge to his home environment. Further, this acquisition of basic skills and abilities helps the child to become independent, able to cope with day-to-day situations and more self-confident. In brief, this acquisition contributes to the child developing a positive self-image. The exercises of practical life are indeed vital to the growth of the child and lay the foundation for other learning experiences.