With lockdown in full-mode, I have been seeing many posts about involving children in household chores. From helping in the kitchen to sweeping and mopping – social media is flooded with images of children pitching in as households try to wriggle through one more day without house helps. Never before have parents been so welcoming about handing over chores to children, happily. 🙂
I see it as a very healthy trend, if done right. It can be a blessing in disguise. Today, I want to share the Montessori thinking behind making children do these activities.
In a Montessori house of children (the school), these activities are called Exercises of Practical Life. These are daily restorative or functional activities performed by the adult at home, which the child observes but doesn’t really get the opportunity to try his hands on. These activities are the first set of activities offered to the child at the house of children because the child is familiar with them. He eagerly and voluntarily chooses to do them because he has the freedom to do so, whenever and for however long he wants to do them. They also help children settle down when they newly join.
Exercises of Practical Life offer opportunities for the constructive development of the child in many ways:
? Gross and Fine Motor Coordination: Holding, carrying objects, putting them down carefully and using specific finger and hand movements are all voluntary movements that the child has to master in order to do a task like rolling dough, pouring liquids, using a dustpan and broom, cutting vegetables and using mortar and pestle for pounding, etc. The clumsiness that we see in children, generally, is because of not getting enough opportunities to perform these day-to-day activities independently. By performing these activities regularly, children are in better control of their movements.
What we see at home in usual circumstances in a different scene altogether. Adults, at home, tend to make a big fuss over how children should do these activities. They monitor children closely – making them conscious….and finally do it for them. All this without giving the child a proper, slow-paced demo in the first place. I will touch upon this a little later.
? Inner Joy: For the adult these are mundane chores, which are not a source of pleasure but more of an obligation.
To the child, they are irresistibly attractive and give him immense joy to be able to do what he observes the adults doing.
They give him a sense of belonging to the human society.
? Purposeful work: In the house of children, as the adult presents the activity to the child, she draws his attention to the intended end result. For example – after showing how to use a dustpan and broom, she says, “Not a speck of dust can be seen!”. By doing variety of such activities repeatedly, the child develops a habit of looking for the purpose behind each activity. This helps in later sensorial, language and arithmetic activities where the purpose is to be understood at a higher level of consciousness.
? Habit of judging one’s own work: The child gets into the habit of judging his work objectively and independently, without anyone having to tell him to do so. Now that he knows the purpose of the work and the manner in which it has to be done, he is able to evaluate for himself, whether he has done it perfectly, with precision.
? Normality: In Montessori lingo, “normality” is observed in children when they choose to work for an extended duration of time, without taking a break or lingering around aimlessly. They may do multiple activities during this period, willingly choosing them and finishing them, but they are focused at work. Over the course of child’s progression, Exercises of Practical Life that require a longer duration to accomplish are introduced, and the child learns to sit for increasing amounts of time to finish a task. These tasks also involve a sequence of steps to be followed. For example, washing a table with soap, cleaning it dry and polishing it.
A normalised child is the ultimate victory for a Montessori teacher, when children reach three-hour work cycles.
? Independence and Confidence: The child becomes conscious of his abilities and learns to be independent. This creates harmony both in the House of Children as well as at home. There is a sense of fulfilment. That’s the reason, Montessori children come across as calm, composed and self-assured. They are hands-on and do not hesitate to offer help.
? Deeper awareness of his surroundings: The child becomes conscious of his surroundings. He no longer lives like a guest, who has everything taken care of for him.
The child gets into the habit of taking care of things around him.
? Rectifying Deviations: Exercises of Practical Life also have the capacity to rectify behavioural deviations like fidgeting, attention deficit, clinginess, etc. The unison of thought, will and action lead to integration of the child’s personality.
That’s a long list of benefits coming from seemingly mundane tasks! You may wonder, as parents, how can you help your child derive these benefits? Here are a few tips on how you can help:
? Give step-by-step demonstration: I cannot stress this point enough! We tend to assume that because children see us do things every day, they would instinctively know how to do it.
For example, if you ask the child to clean the table with a wipe, show him (in slow motion) how you start from one end and stop when you reach the other end. Then go back to wipe the area just above the already wiped area, but overlapping the two areas a little.
Have you ever thought of giving a demo in so much detail? The ability of the child to perform a task with precision (and human beings love precision!) depends on how well you deliberately demonstrated in the first place.
? Start Simple: If you have not given chores before, or if it is a new area or work, give tasks that do not take more than one or two steps to accomplish. If required, break the task and let the child do a part of it.
? Use Appropriate Tools: As much as possible, give the child work tools that are physically proportionate to him so that he can handle them by himself.
Oversized or heavy tools will be an impediment for the child.
For example, a long or heavy mop. Set up his work station to his level, such that he can work comfortably. For example, use a foot stool so that he can stand comfortably and work at the kitchen platform. Arrange the work station with everything he will need so that he can work without going back and forth.
? Work as a team: Before giving complete ownership (which the child will eventually take), divide the tasks between the child and you. You do one step and let him do the next. Let him do his part of the task independently.
? Draw his attention to important parts of the task: Every task has some important aspects which, if brought to the child’s attention, will help him to focus on them when he does the task himself. For example, while cutting vegetables on a chopping board, say to the child, “ See how I support the knife with my index finger on top.”
I hope these tips are helpful as you ponder about sanely getting through this period of lockdown. Looking at the same faces all day, and wondering who can do what, can be made a whole lot joyful. What better way to spend time together? So go ahead, and make full use of it! Remember, you know you are doing it right if your child is enjoying doing the task.