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“If teaching is to be effective with young children, it must assist them to advance on the way to independence. It must initiate them into those kinds of activities, which they can perform themselves. We must help them to learn how to walk without assistance, to run, to go up and down the stairs, to pick up fallen objects, to dress and undress, to wash themselves, to express their needs, and to attempt to satisfy their desires through their own efforts. All this is part of an education for independence.”—Maria Montessori
Maria Montessori believed that children are innately preparing to be adults. She further stated that parents and teachers needed to provide a strong foundation of skills and work habits that would eventually allow them to be responsible for the caring of their own families, homes, community and environment. These skills, when taught early in life, allow children to believe in themselves as well as developing the self-discipline needed for success throughout their lives. Montessori stated that at each plane of development there is a sensitive period for different skills and activities. It is critical that proper stimulation be provided as nature intended. A child enters the Montessori preschool around the age of 3. It is here where the work of the family, known as Practical Life activities, provides an introduction and smooth transition to the Montessori school by linking the activities that the child is familiar with at home to the school environment.
Children at this age enjoy, and even prefer, spending their time helping adults with their activities. When allowed to do so, the child learns that his contributions are of value, thus boosting his self-esteem and independence. He enjoys and should be encouraged to use child-size replicas of adult tools. In short, the direct aim of Montessori Practical Life activities is to help develop social skills and independence. Indirectly, Practical Life activities develop fine motor skills, as well as strengthening intellect, concentration, and personal will.
The importance of beauty in the Montessori classroom can be keenly observed in the Practical Life area of the classroom. Practical Life activities have a unique purpose which, when carried out properly, are very calming. To the adult eye, these activities may seem simple and repetitive, but a child who is learning to wash a table or fold napkins is accomplishing more than meets the eye. The Montessori teacher realizes that the child is: demonstrating a high level of concentration, developing a sense of order (putting all materials back where they belong), taking pride in a job well done, increasing independence through care of self and the environment, developing respect for his community (using materials appropriately and cleaning up afterwards), improving fine motor coordination.