Sunday, October 13, 2013

Practical Life in the Atrium

 What is Practical Life and why do we have it in the Atrium?

If you've ever been to a Montessori Primary Classroom (ages 3-6) you will see that Practical Life is one of the areas of the classroom. All of the children, but especially the youngest, will spend much of their time in this area. The purpose of the Practical Life exercises is multi-faceted. As anyone who is in ear shot of a preschool child knows, if one is cleaning, sewing, dusting, sweeping or cooking, the preschooler says, "I want to do it, too!" In addition, that same preschooler can often be heard to say, "I can do it myself." She says it even if it isn't quite true. 

Young children have a need to work in a way that is different than an adults view of work. The adult works to accomplish a task. The child works to perfect himself. We see this when a child will do a task over and over and over again without tiring. It is in the process of this work that the young child is meeting an internal developmental need that is unknown to the adult observer. Only the child knows when he has tired of a task. He does not work to accomplish the task. It is in the doing, the moving, the focused independence that the child is creating himself. It is, in a way, a form of prayer. For who has given the child this need but our Creator?

It is through the work of Practical Life (in the Atrium we find work to do, we do not play) that the child begins to learn to control and coordinate her movements, to find inner order and to work independently. These skills are so important for every child and are the skills that the young child has an inner need to master. Each child does his own work and can work at a lesson for as long as he needs without interruption (hopefully!). As teachers, we do not teach so much as guide the child. We ask only that the child respect herself, her environment and the others in the Atrium. The children have freedom with limits. Freedom to move at will, to choose their own work, to determine when they are finished with something and even freedom to not work. All as long as they follow the three rules of respect.

In this way, it is through the work of Practical Life that the children are preparing themselves for the lessons about the Life of Jesus and the Mass which require more control of attention and movement. They should also be more prepared to sit through Mass which requires a great deal of control!

Below are some of the Practical Life exercises that were on the shelf at the beginning of the year. I have just changed most of them to reflect the season of Autumn and to add a small dimension of difficulty. When your children return after having a week off they will be excited to see new things in the Atrium!

Flower Arranging 
Pouring and Drinking Water
Spooning apples

Pouring Small Shells
Placing Apples by their stems

Tweezing Puff Balls

Polishing a Mirror
Threading a Needle
The Prayer Table as set by the children.
A word about the prayer table. You can see the many flower arrangements placed on the prayer table by the children. I think flower arranging may be one of the favorite works in the Atrium right now! Setting up the prayer table is a work the children may do although at this time no one has chosen to set it up. I think the children are still too immersed in the newness of the Atrium and the Practical Life work. At the end of the morning we gather together at the prayer table as a group. If the table is not set, we will set it together with flowers, objects (shells at this time), a picture or statue, a prayer card and a candle which I light. We sing some songs and are beginning to practice 'making silence.' It is here that we can contemplate our work in silence, we can say something to Jesus out loud or in silence if we like. We also dismiss from the prayer table. 

We have had five weeks in the Atrium so far. I am so pleased with the progress of the children. Having 20 children who have never been in this kind of classroom in the past was daunting to me. Being a new Atrium means we will have to go slowly this year and take our time presenting new lessons. Fortunately, slowing down is one of the goals of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. For in this slowness we have the time to contemplate the Goodness of God.