[This post submitted for Living Montessori Now's "Montessori Monday.]
The newsletter from Michael Olaf arrived the other day! Whenever updates come from them, all else is postponed until I get through scouring it. I wonder who Michael Olaf is? He must have loved Montessori an awful lot!
This latest newsletter was all about Practical Life. To me, practical life is the genius of Montessori. It is a way of thinking more than anything else. It's an attitude that says My child needs valuable work. My child doesn't need special "baby" or "child" activities. My child wants to be involved in whatever I view as important. My child needs appropriate tools and environments for participating in the life of our family.
When I first learned about this area of Montessori education, I immediately thought of the roles my mother let me have in our household from a very young age. I benefited from being the youngest because she was much more relaxed about what I could do. For instance, one of my duties was to rise early while it was still cool in the summer, put gasoline in the lawnmower, and mow the front and back lawns myself. I did each of these tasks without supervision from the age of about 10. Rather than viewing it as a burden, I loved mowing because I was given so much freedom and responsibility to do something that really mattered. Real work. I remember folding laundry with Mom from a very young age - maybe 2 or 3. Again, I loved it. I still love folding laundry. Weird, I know.
Classic practical life exercises like cutting fruit and vegetables, dusting plants, sweeping, washing dishes, and so on, are typically geared toward children starting at around 15 months. I think a prerequisite for most of them is the ability to walk. So, we are a bit behind there. But Vicki has been helping me load and empty the dishwasher, load and unload the dryer (and transport clothes to be folded in her walker wagon to the place in the living room where we fold!), and I've recently noticed her begin to show an interest in wiping the floor and other surfaces with a dishcloth, beginning to lay things out flat and try to fold them, and also wanting to wipe her nose, mouth, and diaper area with cotton wipes (I suppose that is more Care of Self than Practical Life). She also loves transferring and pouring items and liquids.
One of the later paragraphs in the newsletter caught my eye. It wasn't so much about Practical Life as it was about emotional expression. It reminded me of something I learned about Vicki Jo from her youngest days. I remember thinking that she could smell fear or hesitation. She could tell when I wasn't wholehearted about something. Here is the quote:
"Children also read the adult's mind and emotion and will carry out research to find out exactly what the parent is trying to communicate when they give double messages—for example when an angry parent is trying to appear cheerful.
A child needs to know that it is all right to feel and express anger and frustration. He needs models to learn how—walking, scrubbing a floor, hitting a pillow or pounding clay—and not hitting another person (spanking included). If an adult goes for a walk or pounds clay, so will the child. If the adult hits the child, the child learns that it is okay to hit to express emotion."
Wow! I was spanked a few times, and honestly, I remember doing really horrid things and really deserving it. It didn't make me fear my mother or make me more prone to hitting others. I don't think we will spank Vicki, and I love these suggestions for showing children how to resolve angry emotions. I love the phrase about how the child will "carry out research" if they sense a double message is present. It is so true. You can't hide anything from these little clairvoyants. Realizing this makes me redouble my efforts to live authentically and show Vicki Jo that real, practical life is full of joy and beauty, but also frustration and mistakes.