We often tell visitors new to Montessori, as well as our parent community, about the importance of Practical Life exercises, those seemingly simple tasks that preschool children love to repeat over and over. Dr. Montessori observed this behavior and incorporated many of these exercises into the classroom.
Practical life varies from "big" to "small" work, but all jobs are equally important. Big work might include washing windows, sweeping and mopping the floor, scrubbing a stool, even weeding. Fine motor work could include spooning exercises, using tweezers, sorting small objects, cutting delicate patterns with scissors, using a screwdriver, or perhaps cutting an object with a knife. No matter the age, children love these opportunities. The work is real and is seen to mimic the work adults perform. This elevates a child's work to something of great importance, on par with the work they see their parents doing daily. And all of these activities harmoniously coexist with the "academic" components of the classroom, such as language or mathematics. Children do not see one as more important than the other, for all are part of their holistic development.
And now we find that researchers in Denver, Colorado, have begun to measure the impact of these Practical Life exercises. They studied 50 children in Montessori environments and 50 children in traditional classrooms. They found after eight months, the Montessori students had significantly stronger fine motor skills associated with a specific task.
From the researchers: "The findings argue for a balanced approach to early childhood education that maintains the importance of physical activity and fine motor development in conjunction with cognitive skills."
Of course, the university researchers are preaching to the Montessori Choir. We've known for decades the importance of these activities. But if the experiments get the word out to a greater audience, be they scientists or parents, we're all for it! One thing remains certain: Dr. Montessori was ahead of us all, even devoted followers and collaborators. We who practice her method every day, we are still catching up to where she stood back in 1907. In that regard, everyone was late to the party.
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