As a Montessorian, I was puzzled.
More Than Chores: Montessori Practical Life
How did Carroll learn to clean house? Did it just automatically come to her at when she reached a certain age? Or did she have an adult in her life, her mother or grandparent perhaps, who invited her to help around the house. I remember my grandmother teaching me how to iron tea towels and handkerchiefs, sew on buttons, sweep the floor, wash dishes, and bake cookies. I am pretty sure that my grandfather’s handkerchiefs did not need ironing, that there was more playing in the soap bubbles than dishes getting washed, and that a lot more dough was eaten then baked. But I learned, at a very young age, some of the daily skills required for being a capable and contributing adult by standing next to and helping my grandmother and mother.
The purpose of teaching children lessons in practical life is not to get them to do chores. The purpose is to teach them how to be adults. If we do not teach children how to do something, how and when will they learn? Carroll says that when her daughter cleans, “she somehow manages to make more of a mess than was there before she started.” If I may kindly and respectfully say, changing the methods she uses to model and demonstrate both the work and its desired outcome would likely result in a more positive experience for Carroll and her daughter — and in a cleaner house.
Carroll acknowledges that her daughter likes doing household work. And rightly so. This is age-appropriate for her five-year-old daughter who is in the sensitive period for this work. If she waits much longer, her daughter’s sensitive period of learning will pass and what her daughter once found enjoyable will indeed become a detested chore. With patience and proper modeling of the work from start to finish, both mother and daughter would be satisfied with the results.
We must remember as adults that we look for shortcuts. I used my vacuum cleaner this morning to clean my kitchen floor after my dogs tracked in dirt. Should I have gotten out my broom? Probably, but my vacuum was already out, so I took a shortcut. However, had I been teaching a young child, I would have cleaned the floor properly. For adults, joy is found in getting our work done quickly and efficiently. For children, joy is in the process of work itself — of knowing that they are independent and are capable of a completing a job well.
Carroll relates that when she took over cleaning the floor from her daughter and told her that she would “just do it,” Carroll’s daughter looked dejected. I wonder how an adult would feel if she proudly demonstrated her work to another adult who abruptly told her, “Never mind…I’ll do it myself.” Hurt? Rejected? Incapable? Angry? What would happen if that adult was asked to complete that task again? Chances are, she would remember that experience and rebel against it. Children feel exactly the same way.
Children are not born knowing how to do things. If they are to learn, they must be shown how to complete tasks, and it may take many lessons and much repetition before the end product is the way we want it. Patience, kindness, and encouragement go a long way. Rather than adopting a “let me do it” attitude, stop and offer something more positive: “I appreciate your help. May I show you how?”
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Friday, March 7, 2014.