For the past two weekends, we've been building a fence in our backyard. Its primary use is to contain my son’s miniature dachshund, Toby. The project has been a real family affair, involving my husband, my son, my parents, and me. But getting my almost-12-year old son to help was a much bigger task than I had anticipated.
Looking back to when I was growing up, I remember many weekends where my father and grandfather would work together on home improvement jobs. If either of them had a job to do, the other was right there beside him, helping. They didn't have to ask; it was assumed.
Montessori Philosophy and Practical Life- Building Character Through Work
They poured concrete patios, laid bricks, laid sod, built awnings, paneled bedrooms, and built and repaired dune buggies. While they did this, my grandmother and mother would cook the meals and sew our clothes. After the work was done, we’d all have dinner together.
Looking back, I learned valuable lessons watching my family. One, family helps family. And two, when there’s a job to be done, everyone pitches in, not just to work, but to enjoy spending time together and to relish in a job well done.
When it came time to build our fence, I jokingly asked my son if he was planning on helping. His response was “Nah, I don’t think so”. Needless to say, I was pretty shocked. He told me he’d rather play video games or read inside.
After I had a cup of coffee and recovered from my son telling me he just “wasn't into helping,” I pulled him aside and told him stories of how his Papa and my Grandpa used to work together on projects. On how each one relied on the other’s expertise. How they learned from each other. How they shared their own stories which became part of our families heritage. We talked about how Papa had just “volunteered” to come help, that neither his dad nor I had asked for help. That Grandma was coming over and would be working on her quilt, while Mommie worked on a manual for NAMC. Most importantly, I explained to him that family helps family. I used examples of Amish barn raisings, where the whole community pitches in to raise a barn in a day, else it would take weeks- or even months- if the farmer had to do it himself. I spoke of learning to be a man. He might need to know how to do that when he grows up, and here was an opportunity for him to learn how. And- though I left it unsaid- it was also an opportunity to learn about work ethic, and concentration for planning and completing big jobs.
In the Montessori philosophy, the traditional work of the family is known as Practical Life. Dr. Montessori believed that these practical life skills were the single most important area to educate children for life. Practical life skills are most visible in the Montessori 3-6 year old classroom, but are by no means limited to that plane of development. As the child matures, so does the nature of the tasks. By learning to do the work of the family, such as dusting, sweeping, pouring drinks, cooking, doing laundry, fixing broken objects, or building things with their hands, children see what is happening in their environment.
They realize that they have a purpose; they learn to concentrate, and to complete a task from start to finish. Most importantly, children learn that they are a valued and contributing member of the family.
Our fence is finished and Toby is delighted to have the freedom to move about in his own backyard. It wasn't an easy task. There were mistakes made, trips to the local hardware store to buy more materials, unexpected rain, and complaints from a boy who’d rather be sword fighting with sticks in the yard. This past Saturday, a friend of my son’s stopped by to see if he could play. Nathaniel asked if he could stop working to go play video games. My answer was no. His friend quickly chimed in with, “then, can I help build the fence?” I smiled and said we’d appreciate the help. He admitted to not knowing what to do, and Nathaniel stepped right up and said, “here, let me show you.” Dr. Montessori would have been proud!
NAMC’s Practical Life (Early Childhood 3—6) manual begins with an introduction to ensure your thorough understanding of the subject. Following the introduction, many creative time tested Practical Life activities are offered to assist the child in developing a sense of order, concentration, personal pride, independence, respect for others, fine motor skills, grace and courtesy, confidence and self esteem.
The activities taught in NAMC’s Advanced Practical Life (Lower Elementary 6—9) curriculum are simpler versions of many of those that the adults in their lives engage in. The module encompasses topics such as cooking, gardening, sewing, and basic etiquette that will help a child develop a high level of concentration and improve fine motor skills while evoking a sense of respect for others and the environment.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Monday, February 18, 2008.