Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Importance of Practical Life

Fine Motor Shelves

Some materials for the beginning of the year

Art (gluing and coloring the world)

What exactly are Practical Life activities and why do we do them in the 3-6 Atrium? Practical Life is the name given to the area of the classroom dedicated to caring for oneself and caring for the environment. We also include movement activities and grace and courtesy lessons under the umbrella of Practical Life. Examples of Practical Life activities include spooning small beads from one bowl to another, moving lima beans, one at a time, from one half of a container to another, pouring small shells, buttoning, zipping and snapping, gluing, drawing and many other activities. We change the activities throughout the year as the children are able to fine tune their skills.

Pouring Beads
The question remains, why do these things in a religious education program?

In a classroom of children aged 3-6, the children are still developing their fine and gross motor skills, their ability to sit quietly and they are learning new language all the time. Practical Life activities speak to young children in a very special way. Children love to help around the house. How many times has your child asked, "Can I do it?" By giving them small tasks that they can be successful at on their own, we are following their lead. They can arrange the flowers for the prayer table, they can sew a card, they can make a bracelet, they can pour shells (and soon water) and they can clean up their own spills, too! Amazingly, they find joy in each of these activities. A child who finds an activity to his or her liking will sit and repeat the activity over and over and over until satisfied. The child is working - on some external task but also on some invisible internal need. Only the child will know when the need has been satisfied. 

Spooning Beads
The child's developmental need for movement, order and independence is so strong between 3-6. It is through the exercises of Practical Life that each child is able to meet these needs.

In addition, by learning to control his body, your child will be better prepared to attend and complete the more difficult lessons involved in the Atrium. After learning to use a funnel to pour water into a pitcher for flower arranging, your child will be prepared for the lesson on preparing the cruets. In this lesson your child will fill two cruets, one with water and one with wine. Once mastered, we continue by using the filled cruets to learn how to fill the chalice. So many of the lessons in the Atrium build upon prior lessons. And all lessons build upon the work of Practical Life. 

Moving Lima Beans
"Knowing how to use objects correctly, how to carry things, how to care for one's surroundings, and so forth, all share an aim that goes beyond physical functioning. Both the movement exercises and the practical life activities nurture wholeness in the child. The children carry out these activities with joy. They live a religious experience in the totality of their persons."  from Listening to God with Children by Gianna Gobbi.

How to extend the lesson at home? Be aware that your preschool and Kindergarten child is capable of more than you may realize! Next time your child says, "Can I help?" be sure to say, "Yes!" Think about the activity at hand and determine what part, if not all, your child is capable of helping with. Perhaps she can help sort the socks while you are folding laundry, he can help you set the table for dinner or have a little bucket of his own while you are washing the car. Of course your child will not do things exactly as you do and may only want to match up half the socks. Follow your child's lead. Watch carefully what she gravitates toward and help her learn when she is wanting to. Before long you'll have a terrific helper. You may find that all this work also helps your child sit still just a little longer during Mass, too!