A Rainy Morning at the Art Institute of Chicago

On October 5th and 6th, the staff went “off campus” for professional development. Friday was spent at the Art Institute of Chicago. What a great place to spend a rainy morning!  We arrived before the museum opened and were greeted by a young woman, who happened to be the niece of Marsha Enright, one of our founders.  She recognized our school’s name right away, of course, but it also became quickly clear that she had taken the time to research the basics of Montessori curriculum and philosophy.

We began by picking a piece of art that drew us to art and education. We spoke on why we had made our choice and what our hopes for the art workshop were. Our stories came easily, which really shouldn’t be a surprise as we all have an appreciation of the beauty of our environment. But there was something else. I noticed how comfortable we all felt in sharing our thoughts and experiences, feeling secure that there would be no judgment.

The museum was ours for quite awhile. We peacefully spent our time perched on little museum stools in front of pieces of art. It struck me that on a normal museum visit, in an effort to see as much as possible during my time there, I would have probably given those pieces about 30 seconds of my appreciation. We practiced different techniques of sharing our observations. It was surprising how much we saw once we took time to really look. Listening to others about what they saw evoked questions that might have answers but most likely encouraged more questions. These methods of observation and questioning and discussion can be easily transferred to our classroom experience on a daily basis.

Coming back into the classroom, I was surprised that I didn’t feel the need to start Art Appreciation 101! Instead both Mrs .Dobilaitis and I came back with a renewed resolution to make our classroom a peaceful and safe environment and allow the time to observe and share our thoughts, ideas, and ponderings. It is not a luxury but a necessity.

Practical Life

Practical Life is foundationally important in the development of the whole child. As mentioned at Open House and Parent Night, this is one of the five defined learning areas  that should be evident in every Montessori classroom. The three categories in practical life are care of self, care for others and care of the environment. Introductory work of moving carefully around the classroom, rolling a rug, sitting on the line, moving a table and replacing work on the proper shelf inform grace and courtesy, independence and capability. When a child is held accountable for the actions to which he is capable, self confidence begins to take root. Grasping, pouring, spooning, tweezing, squeezing, scrubbing, cutting, polishing, sweeping and more all help in the muscle memory of refined movement and focused control of the hands. This control will facilitate zipping, buttoning, tying and of course writing. Accepting and encouraging these actions benefit both the child and the parent by fostering a self confident and independent human being. It is the beginning of the realization that if one can and does care for oneself, perhaps one can be of help in caring for others. The activities of flower arranging, watering plants, gardening and tidying make one aware that the world is greater than “I” and that “I” have a role in creating peaceful spaces and effecting outcomes. For the child, gardening helps them understand the relationship we have with the food we eat. Our visit to the pumpkin patch was a tangible reminder of how often we fail to recognize that relationship. If you recall, the pumpkins were beautifully displayed in a created “patch.”  A short lesson on where pumpkins come from beginning with the seed is important for the child that frequents the grocery store and has minimal exposure to an actual garden. Humanity’s relationship to the earth and all that the earth provides for us is important to our very existence. Practical life in a Montessori classroom acknowledges that importance.
As you raise your children and grow with them, please recognize the life lessons inherent when your child helps you cook, put groceries away, clean up him/herself, clean up the common areas as well as his/her bedroom. For the child it is far more than just completing a chore. It is nurturing one’s independence, self- confidence, responsibility, muscle coordination and control. Let practical flourish in your homes as it helps to create whole children.
In peace and respect for the children,