To continue exploring the “three keys” at work in our classrooms, let’s jump to see what’s happening in our Primary Communities this fall:
The children in our Primary communities have immersed themselves in all the new and familiar materials in their classrooms. The guides, on the other hand, have been looking for signs of concentration, which is what Dr. Montessori called “[t]he first essential for the child’s development.” Children in the Primary communities develop concentration through work with the Practical Life materials. With practical tools like scrubbing brushes and sponges, the child can apply himself to familiar tasks which, through multi-step, purposeful, movement-filled work, invite concentration. In fact, Practical Life is the origin of concentration in the Primary classroom as well as the stepping stone without which children cannot move forward. These activities give the guide a direct look into the child’s self control, logical sequencing, and follow-through. Based on these observations, the guide then moves the child forward into areas that require an elevated level of precision, self-discipline, and focus.
The prepared environment, as already mentioned, is designed to support concentration through the exercises of Practical Life, but there are other elements that contribute to the child’s focus as well. Tables are organized so that one child and one material can fit at a time, which supports individual work. All materials in the environment encourage repetition, inviting the child to focus on one task for longer stretches of time.
The guide observes each child and makes individualized choices about lessons to give each child based on what captivates him along the way. And, most importantly, the guide never interrupts a concentrating child. A child in one Primary classroom recently scrubbed a table without interruption or loss of focus for an astounding thirty-five minutes!
The power of the Practical Life work is in its hands-on nature, for, as Dr. Montessori attested, the hand is the link to the brain. The Primary child thinks concretely, and the materials that we offer him encourage focus through movement. Practical Life materials engage not only the hand but often the whole body towards purposeful work. The immersive, hands-on experiences in Practical Life deeply connect the child to the world, providing opportunities for the development of the will and the creation of the self.