Practical Life for Older Children and Teens
Bay Farm Parent Education
When people think about Montessori schools, some of the most prominent materials that come to mind are the beautiful practical life opportunities in our Toddler and Children’s House. There are small wooden trays with pouring and transferring works. There are whole lessons dedicated to the arrangement of flowers. The children prepare their own snacks and wash their own dishes. They use special frames that teach them to tie, buckle, and snap.
Those practical life materials at the Toddler and Children’s House level are incredibly important. They are also very visible in those programs, because they take on the form of a standard material on a shelf, so it can sometimes appear that practical life is a part of our education for children up to age six, but not after.
What happens when children reach the elementary years and beyond?
The work of practical life does not stop, nor does it become any less important as a student grows older. It does, however, take on different forms and blend somewhat into the rest of the program. Is learning to tie one’s shoes any more or less important than learning to balance a budget? Of course not. Both are necessary but are best presented at different times in our lives. The following skills are critical steps toward becoming an independent adult; we present them when the child is ready.
The following are just a sample of some of the practical life skills taught to our older students. Often embedded into the curriculum, they still help kids reach independence milestones.
No one is born knowing how to manage their time. First, it takes a good sense of time as well as the ability to set goals and follow directions. Once a person has those basic skills mastered, they can gather tools to help them meet their goals within a set time.
In our elementary classrooms, this often begins with a work plan. Work plans can take on many forms, but at its most basic, the plan sets forth a list of tasks that are to be completed over the course of the day or week. Students have some choice in regard to the order they will complete the tasks and how they will go about doing so, but the expectation is set.
Do children take their work plans and successfully complete them all the time? Absolutely not, but that’s where the time management learning comes in. Let’s assume a child is getting their language work done each day all week, but on Friday it becomes obvious that they have not done much in the way of math. This happens - frequently - and our teachers make sure to work with students (rather than dictate to them) to find ways to resolve the issue.
When a Bay Farm Teacher notices a pattern of unfinished work, they will sit down and meet with the student to help determine the cause of the incomplete work and together, they will devise a plan to help ensure that work will be completed in a more timely manner. The teacher might ask the child why they think the math work isn’t getting done. Is it too challenging? Is it too easy? Is it just something they don’t particularly enjoy? What does the child need to make sure it gets done?
Sometimes a child will be able to reflect and suggest a solution. Other times, they might need some ideas from the adult. They may need a refresher lesson or to be challenged a bit more. They may need to commit to doing their math first every day just to make sure they don’t avoid it. Regardless of the course of action, time management is a constant and fluid area of work for all students as they age and will serve them well in adulthood.
Development of Study Skills
As students progress through their Montessori education, they acquire skills that will enable them to experience academic success. These skills advance as the children get older. In Elementary I, students begin to have homework, break long-term assignments into manageable components, and begin taking spelling tests. In Elementary II, students continue to have homework, they begin taking notes during lessons, they prepare for subject-driven assessments, and they collaborate on group assignments. By the time the students enter Middle School, they are significantly more responsible for their own learning experiences. Higher-level study skills are taught directly at this level, and then students are expected to apply them regularly to activities that range from preparing for a classroom debate to taking a geometry test.
Development of Social Skills
Learning how to engage with others isn’t always easy. During Elementary I, children are transitioning from enjoying mostly parallel play in their Children’s House classrooms to developing deeper friendships for the first time. It’s only natural that conflict will arise. As children age and go through Elementary II and Middle School, puberty and a developing sense of self and individuality create more opportunities to relate to peers in new ways.
One of the most wonderful gifts of the Montessori classroom is the work periods of flexible time. Many traditional schools have blocks dedicated to specific subjects, and these time periods are rigid and centered on whole-group lessons. In a Montessori environment, where there is more flexibility, it’s simple to call a class meeting whenever it’s needed.
Class meetings are a great way to help children resolve conflicts. Our teachers manage to create problem-solving structures without pointing fingers at individuals. Rather, they ask students to generate solutions. This approach empowers children, normalizes conflict, and lets them practice a wide variety of strategies even when they’re not the ones experiencing the conflict.
Of course, a class meeting isn’t always the solution when emotions are running high. Most classroom environments have a dedicated space a child can choose to go to cool down; all classes ensure the individual’s needs are met.
Self-care is a never-ending process and really consists of a series of daily and other regular and periodical practices. Once children reach the elementary years, they have mastered many of the basics, but they are ready to start learning more nuanced and progressively more difficult skills.
Nutrition is something we never stop teaching our students, regardless of their age. Food preparation is part of this, but it does take on new forms as children age. Every classroom has different ways of incorporating food prep and nutrition education. Some create special snacks together for birthdays, while others explore cultural cuisines from around the world. Children continue to hold autonomy in making choices about their own food needs; they decide when to eat snacks, but are responsible for doing so within certain parameters (such as how many children may use the snack table at a time, cleaning up procedures, etc.).
Physical activity and exercise continue to be important throughout our lives as well, and healthy habits built early make a difference. Some classes take walks together, others explore yoga. The possibilities are endless, but the goal is the same.
Lastly, stress management is introduced. Stress and frustration are a normal part of life, but there are things we can do to manage their intensity, frequency, and our reactions to them. Children may learn a wide range of techniques in the classroom, including breathing strategies, meditation, and mindfulness.
When children reach adolescence, the Bay Farm Middle School curriculum centers on creating a microeconomy. Traditionally students work on a farm and do everything needed to sell what they produce. Some Montessori schools still operate this way, while others have found creative, modern ways to achieve the same goals. I’m sure you have noticed the many fundraisers our Middle School students have run this year to raise money for their end-of-the-year trip.
Students at this level are responsible for all aspects of the business, with their teachers there for modeling and support. They make connections with other community organizations, create and balance budgets, manage marketing, and learn about customer services.
Remember that while practical life work is critical for the primary years, it is certainly not the end. This work continues for our students into adolescence. Want to learn more? Contact us to have a conversation about Montessori education or to schedule a visit by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org