10 Steps to Wash a Table

Knowing how to wash a table is part of the pracital life skills in Montessori schools. Practical life is a part of Montessori education that helps a child’s coordination, and eventual independence. Children who can do for themselves have a good sense of accomplishment, and even self esteem. However, practical life skills should not be the emphasis of the whole Montessori experience.

I recently received an email from a mother who was not sure about sending her child to a local Montessori preschool. She had asked the advice of a friend, who was a principal at a local public elementary school. Her friend had told her about a current kindergarten student, a Montessori preschool graduate, who was behind the other children academically. In fact according to the principal, this student was only good at washing tables.

Coincidentally, I was reading “Montessori for the Disadvantaged” in which Orem cites the oversight of modern Montessori schools breaking everything down into rigid rules, such as 10 steps for washing a table.
He contends that Montessori never intended her method to be used in such a narrow way.
He thought she would have been more open in her approach. This really made me think about the purpose and goal of Montessori practical life education.

Should we break down tasks and chores to show a child how to do them? Absolutely!
On the other hand, we don’t need to do them so ritualistically that they become an idol to the method. The center of Montessori is the child. We need to provide stimulus and a child oriented environment that encourages children to grow. Part of being a teacher or parent is to encourage our children’s talents, to help them stretch to the next step of development. This is accomplished, not only by freedom in the environment, but freedom within the minds of the teachers and parents.

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