Understanding the Method
The foundation of the Montessori Philosophy is based on the shared understanding that every child carries within them the person they will become.
The Montessori environment supports the child’s physical, intellectual and spiritual capacity with the ability to discover their potential through freedom. This freedom is not “liberty” to do as they will, but a freedom achieved through an internal order and self discipline.
To achieve this order and inner discipline requires work by the child. Every child responds to their environment by an interior stimulus or drive called the ‘horme’. This is a spontaneous unconscious urge and the Montessori environment helps to build this inner person so that and when a child engages in their freely chosen work we see a child who is interested in things, ordered, active and shows “normalised” behaviour. Maria Montessori saw normalisation as the most important outcome of her work with the child. So not only does work assist the building of the inner person, it also re-orders the inner person, becoming an instrument of normalisation or wholeness for both the child and the whole community.
Children love to work!
The word work has a different connotation to the child than it does to the adult. Whilst adults may find ‘work’ a chore, children approach ‘work’ as an activity that they are driven to do.
When an adult sees a grubby table top, hopefully they will clean it. The child wants to clean the same table top for the pure pleasure of the activity. It may take some time for us to get our heads around this concept of work, but this is important, as work is the activity a child chooses to form themselves.
We tend to think that self-esteem is built by making everything easy for a child and making sure they never fail. i.e. If they never encounter hardship or conflict, they’ll never feel bad about themselves. Children learn self-esteem from mastering difficult tasks. When we step in to do the hard jobs for a child then we can do them a dis-service as we can rob them of the opportunity to contribute to life.
In the Montessori environment the most important work a child can engage in is activities of everyday living or Practical Life. Maria Montessori herself stated, “no other occupation which could be undertaken by the child at this stage (3-6) could be more important for their whole development – physical, mental and moral than these exercises of Practical Life, as they are called”.
Practical Life activities are based on the domestic routines in the Montessori environment which a child would see as a normal part of family life – in fact one child once called them activities for ‘practising life”. This is in fact what the Practical Life activities are in our Montessori environment. The essential tasks of cleaning, washing, ironing, gardening and cooking play a pivotal role in ensuring the smooth running of the community whilst helping a child to develop life skills along with independence, a sense of value. These tasks form the foundation for academic learning.
Practical Life is an important building block for the child’s development. Practical Life gives children the opportunity to develop basic skills such as pouring, spooning and cutting. The key to the child developing these skills is that the child can then cook, clean and confidently help throughout their environment.
Practical Life is a complete brain food, giving the child everything they need. Each activity has a beginning, middle and end and as the child repeatedly works with a Practical Life activity it helps develop concentration, perseverance, the inner discipline to complete the activity with precision and exactness and the desire to repeat it. This is what Maria Montessori called Normalised behaviour.