I struggle with the Exercises of Practical Life in the atrium. Not because I want to go overboard with it and definitely not because I undervalue it.
After intense involvement working towards getting people in various Montessori-related arenas to focus on the "keys" (at the primary level keys to the world, and elementary is keys to the universe) --- it seems that the necessary keys in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd have simply not yet been agreed upon.
I respect the work of EVERYONE who has been involved in CGS since the beginning and continues to work in it now.
I have spent the last several hours re-evaluating my stance, my choices, my perceptions, and attempting to integrate these new perceptions. Praying, meditating, evaluating where my personal hang-ups are and what aspects are truly the philosophy of keys (essentiality) I value so highly. What will best serve the children?
And I am struggling. I feel like a failure. I just can't do it. I just can't find peace with the current recommendations.
I start with my AMI primary album for the exercises of practical life. AMI provides a keys-based album, with the idea that you add in what you *need* but you better have clearly definable and state-able reasons for making an addition. Be SURE it is a benefit to the child, and not to the adult.
I then look at the typical atrium and the "typical" church to find what items from that album to KEEP as well as what could be "added". These then became my "typical suggestions."
I also added more "sensorial" type items such as "sorting natural items" and "sorting church items"(shells, rocks, crosses vs crucifixes, etc - typical of items found in the atrium or the church). I once found sets of matching sheep, about 1 inch tall, that were in different poses. The children matched them up on a card that had small circles drawn in two columns on which to place the matched pairs. This was a preliminary work choice until they had enough other options. Once in a while I have even added an activity on grading - grading smoothness of fabrics for example - for very sensorially-needy or emotionally-needy children (special needs children in particular).
I then say: Now look at YOUR atrium. If you are Episcopal and roll your fine linen - have a rolling preliminary work; if you are Catholic and fold it, then have the folding cloths (also have the folding cloths if you fold anything in the atrium!). Do you have a carpet? then have a small vacuum of some sort; no carpet? then don't have a vacuum - have a broom! How will you keep your items clean from the snuffers? etc. Does your church have images in the stained glass windows? Then an intro to stained glass art activity is in order. Otherwise, leave it out for now.
The point is to orient the child to THEIR atrium and THEIR church, fulfilling their needs and tendencies in a way that allows them to fully participate in the atrium. The point is NOT to keep them so busy with practical life that they never get their hands on the rest of the material in the atrium!
Some of the items I am ALL FOR - that my experience and the experience of others has shown to be true:
- Preliminary activities (that are removed when the last child has mastered them) such as "how to use a paintbrush", "how to glue small bits of paper", "opening and closing containers" and a few others. Some of these are found in the AMI primary album in a different format and that is ok; most of these are additions. The point is to look at what skills the children need in order to do other work. Pull these prelim when no-one needs them anymore.
- Plant care, seed planting, folding cloths, dusting --- care of the environment. Buckets, water sources, cleaning windows (if your atrium has a window), polishing. GREAT!
- Walking the line and the Silence Activity. Great!
- Grace and Courtesy
- Care of self - the buttoning, zipping, etc. these are great additions that I have rarely had in the atrium, but are very good to have if you have to deal with dressing during atrium time, as well as to help fulfill the psychological needs of the child so that you can reach them spiritually.
- Having a Montessori style bell or a few of the bells in the atrium - wonderful! (even if expensive -- perhaps if a Montessori school is replacing theirs, the better ones from the set could be purchased cheaply for the atrium)
- I can even work with only have a wandering line and NO ellipse. Because new catechists do unfortunately want to then use the line for "gathering" or "containing" which is NOT its purpose at all. The line is never used for sitting or containing. It is a material and has a precise purpose. So I am ok with not having the ellipse so that the catechists don't make a mistake with it.
- Some sewing activities - based on the local culture. These skills can lead into a prayer/meditation and are part of our Christian heritage (needlework, weaving, etc).
But some things - I just struggle. My heart wants to find a reason, but nothing is yet satisfactory. I want to be focused on the keys - the essentials. My experience does not validate the suggestions, yet I respect and value the experience of others.
- I have ONE water pouring album page in my practical life album. Just ONE. It has a pitcher and 3 glasses, a sponge or cloth to catch the drip. And that is IT. We teach the children how to pour. Period. I have done this work with 2 1/2 year olds in a once a week atrium or co-op session - SUCCESSFULLY. My heart cannot find a good reason to add 1) pouring from a pitcher to a pitcher and back again; 2) pouring into just one glass; 3) pouring into a variety of containers. Now I *can* see showing the child how to use the funnel - but that could be a modification of the pitcher into 3 cups - returning the water to the pitcher (cruet) via a funnel. This will help them with preparation of the cruets later. Two or more (in this case FOUR) wet-pouring options - is TOO MUCH.
- I want to keep the left-right orientation on the polishing trays because it is in the order of use - not particularly because it is in order of reading/writing (as we would focus on in the academic Montessori). Because a basket of items in no particular order is down-right confusing and messy to all the 3 year olds I have worked with. Maybe it's just my crowd (across 3 states of widely diverse population?) in a once a week atrium session - they like to have things in the same order each time. Yet, the desired focus of CGS is to pull away from this practice of left-right, citing that it is a need for the adult, not the child (opposed to the words in my primary album - 'order is a need of the child'). I should think that dumping it all in a basket is not good practice for the child. The tray on the left should be glass
or hard plastic; I was using it elsewherethe day this photo was taken.See the order of use though:polish, dish to hold the ONE SQUIRT of polish at a time,cotton ball, q-tip for crevices, buffing cloth(out of order on the wood one!)
- Polishing 2: I do not personally see the need to separate out brass and silver polish when I have easy and inexpensive access to an all-purpose non-toxic metal polish.
- Polishing 3: I do see the the need for the children to have things clearly indicated to them. Wood polish is on a wood tray, with a wood dish, and a wood oilcloth ring. 3 and 4 year olds who are not yet reading appreciate this level of independence, of "figuring it out on their own" and having success (anyone ever put wood polish on metal or vice-versa?). The children are process-oriented, not product-oriented, but they sure do like their independence and confidence-building. Not to mention I can present just one polishing and they have access to 3 polishing options from there on out (wood, metal, glass), since the trays are set up identically.
- Those are the main ones - and perhaps the only ones really. But they are strong in my heart.
I will just keep praying. And asking. And observing.
Always looking for what is essential here? What are the keys?
What will best serve the child?