Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Are Practical Life activities so Important?

YES. Practical Life is very important for young children to help them grow and develop in both practical and academic ways.

Practical Life activities can be as simple as pouring and transferring beans / rice/ sand/ water from one container to another with different utensils. They can also involve many other lifeskill activities in our daily lives. Many parents may have mistaken Practical Life as play, but it is not. It is a set of skills to help children get around the world. What else? Let me do a quick review here:

The main aims of Practical Life activities are to:
1. Refine a skill

2. Develop eye-hand coordination.

3. Develop concentration level -- While concentration level is developed, there is always repetition in order for them to master the skill.

**(Many parents whom I have met told me about their children having no concentration in doing their homework. Well, this may largely be due to no practical life activities being introduced before their children reached the age of 7 years old. So, do extend the practical life activities at home even if the school is offering this area of learning.)

4. Develop independence -- This is definitely achieved once they master the skill. They will be very happy to do things for themselves. So, no help from anyone please.

5. Develop self-confidence -- Yeah! They feel so good about themselves that they are eager to do things for themselves and people around them. This also initiates the love of learning in other areas like science and math, because they are confident!

6. Pincer grip -- Their small muscles in the first three fingers (thumb, index and middle fingers) are strengthened when they do practical life (think about it, don't you use these fingers much more than the ringman and pinky? E.g., cutting with scissors, using chopsticks, holding pencil while writing). **This prepares them for writing later on.**

Children at work @ Clover (Montessori, Johor Bahru)

Celeste was transferring and sorting small little beads with a tweezer. High level of concentration is needed in order to develop the eye-hand coordination. Look at her "do not disturb me" look :).

Bong Yi pegging his work at the line. Pegging is a Practical Life activity that directly helps to develop pincer grip.

Some 5 and 6 year-olds were learning how to make Milo, Chinese Tea and Coffee in their Practical Life lesson. They are ready to make drinks for their family members at home! :)

What a good helper Jia Le will be at the kitchen next time. He will have no problem filling up his tum even when he goes for a camping trip.

Learning how to take care of themselves is another important Practical Life lesson. Brushing teeth is a must-learn lesson. Heard from Tristan's mom that Tristan has been taking initiatives to brush his teeth after this lesson. Great impact!


Friday, March 26, 2010

The lil' musicians at Parents Morning 2009

The children at our centre performed at the Parents Morning 2009 (November). They showcased what they had learned throughout the year in their ABC Music & Me (created by Kindermusik) lessons.

The 2 to 4 year-olds were much easier to manage than the 4 to 6 year-olds. The younger ones followed instructions and developed great listening skills throughout the course and ta-da! They were perfect during their performance of pretending to be little Robins searching for food by following the musical cues. This was a great achievement for the children! I was so proud of them. Some parents feedbacked it was a great success!

Also thanks to the teachers who took great pain in sewing all the sequins for the wings and bibs!

The little Robins woke up as they heard the cues for the Sun to come out.

They started flying high upon hearing the ascending sounds of the bells and gradually flying low upon hearing the descending sounds of the bells.

The little Robins started to hop on the ground to look for food when they heard the staccato notes.

The 4 to 6-year olds were usually over-excited during their ABC Music & Me classes that they were harder to manage. They told me they loved the lessons so much that they started dancing non-stop even though I asked them to stop. I did not know whether to laugh or cry when I heard this. I wanted them to develop listening skill, so it really took me about 6 to 8 months to really know how to manage them.

Nevertheless, they were a lovely bunch. During the practice sessions for the Parents Morning, they cooperated. No one made any fuss when they were asked to be fixed to just one type of instrument being assigned to them. They were able to do the call-and-response rhthym using the drum and the sticks and play their little instruments in an ensemble. Bravo! I was also thanking god that I could take the role of the conductor due to my school-day experience of being a student conductor in the Chinese Orchestra! So what I did when I was young really came into handy.

Oscar playing the drum to the rhythm of tas and ti-tis. The other children responded to his drum rhythm by playing their sticks. Hence, the results were the sticks being the echoes of the drum.

During an ensemble to the Twinkle Dance, they really exercised their steady beats with their instruments. Zhi Hui, Oscar, Uma and Kareena played the major part of the music, Jia Jun, Jeslyn and Royce played the minor part. They all played in unison at the last part of the music.

They were not nervous at all with the spotlights on them! I love them all.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The death of MCI in Singapore

My colleague wants to take up Montessori International Diploma in Singapore and I encourage her to sign up with Montessori Centre International (MCI, U.K.) since it has been acclaimed to have one of the highest rating in the Montessori Pedagogy internationally.

However, she found out the MCI pedagogy course is no longer available in Singapore because the new policy disregards Montessori Teaching Diploma certificate. Pre-school teachers are to take up the Early Childhood course accredited by MCYS and MOE. So now those who already have an International Diploma in Montessori need to take the Early Childhood Edcucation course "again" before being able to teach in pre-schools. Many of the curriculums are overlapped with Montessori Diploma course. Will this be a waste of time? This is a question that many Montessorians have been discussing with one another.

So now, MCI has vanished in Singapore. But Modern Montessori International (MMI) is still standing strong, because they have opened many Montessori enrichment centres. This means Montessori Diploma holders can still teach in these centres. However, enrichment centres enroll students by subjects. Who will want to enroll their child just to Practical Life or Sensorial course? Hence, these two important child development subjects are totally absent in enrichment centres.

Now, has Montessori really become a Teaching Method without a soul? A school that uses Montessori materials to teach does not mean that it will achieve the results of a real Montessori school. The Montessori Philosophy is the SOUL of Montessori methods. This Philosophy is so powerful that both children and teachers are transformed by it.

There are 5 areas/subjects in Montessori (i.e., Practical Life, Sensorial, Math, Literacy, Cultural). These 5 areas are intertwined. I have talked more about why Practical Life activites are so important in an Early Childhood setting in my other blog entry.

Related blogs:

1. What is Montessori?

2. Montessori Philosophy - The Soul of Early Childhood Teaching

3. Are Practical Life activities so important?

4. Peaceful Learning Environment

Related link:

1. Pre-school Teacher Training & Qualifications (Ministry of Education, Singapore)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Peaceful Learning Environment

I have been working in Montessori schools in Singapore and Johor Bahru since my Montessori Teacher's Training days. There is always one thing in common -- peaceful and calm learning environment. The children are usually working on their own activities quietly, and of course this comes with ground rules.

Rules are always set in the environment, but for children to carry out those rules with own willingness is quite an art. This has got a lot to do with the Montessori philosophy -- the Teachers have to carry themselves with grace. We cannot rush here or there, even when we really need to. We always need to keep our composure and be calm. Children get influenced by us. This can extend to outside the school too when Parents can keep their composure and be a role model in terms of behaviour and speech.

I do take this peacefullness in our learning environment for granted until some teachers from other traditional preschools visit our centre. The first thing that they always comment is that our centre is so peaceful and quiet. They would say children in their schools are always rowdy and Teachers always need to shout on top of their lungs to cover the children's voice to keep their voices down.

There is another reason for the rowdiness of children in traditional school settings. Children need movement, especially pre-schoolers. Since they learn to crawl, they can't wait to explore the world. Hence, it is normal for a pre-schooler not being able to sit still for more than 20 minutes. They need to move about. Montessori environment requires the children to move about to select activities from the shelves. The need of movement is fulfilled. This makes them calmer and more willing to oblige. However, in a traditional school setting, children have their own designated desks and they are required to sit there and attend lessons. The need of movement is not fulfilled and they get frustrated.

Related Books:

The Secret of Childhood (Maria Montessori, 1982) - This book goes a long way in helping the argument that the child-centered approach is the finest way to create great adults from children.

The Discovery of the Child (Maria Montessori, 1982) - Maria Montessori discusses the array of materials and techniques needed to release a child's learning potential.