Joyful moments in the classroom

Montessori practical life work

Sometimes it can be surprising, the simple things that the children choose to do.  A tray with a bar of soap, a small grater, bowl and brush.  So simple, but a favorite activity of the children year after year.  Our students love to sit at a table, grating the soft bar of soap into gentle flakes falling into the bowl below, until nothing remains of the soap.  They use the brush to sweep any flakes of soap remaining onto the tray back into the bowl, and then the child goes to the shelf and stores the soap they just grated into a jar where any child can come and use a pinch of soap flakes to wash a table, a chair, or something else of their choice.


In Montessori, we call an activity like this, ‘purposeful work’  because it is an activity that has a specific purpose (to transform soap from a solid bar into smaller flakes we can use for cleaning), specific aims to help the child with skill acquirement and development, ( coordination of controlled movement, hand dexterity, muscle strengthening, and building concentration).  And it provides deeply satisfying for the child, as all good purposeful work should do.  (Think of how satisfied you feel after cleaning out your car and having it feel brand new again, or wiping the stove top down all the way and then getting to cook on a clean surface.)  In the same way, the child feels the deep satisfaction which is an intrinsic reward, all from something as simple as a bar of soap and a cheese grater.


Now on this particular day, one of our students was carrying this soap grating tray back to the shelf when- oops!  They dropped it onto the floor!  The child picked up all of the items and put it onto the shelf as two other 3 year olds came over to take a look at what happened.  Here the soap dust lay scattered on the kitchen floor, and the revelry of the children ensued.  They touched it and got soap dust all over their hands.  They clapped their hands and were delighted by the dust clouds it made, which was enhanced by the rays of sun coming in through the window.  Then, they danced in the soap dust, watching as their socks drew designs in the soap on the floor.  I watched, and pondered.  How would most adults approach this situation?  What would you do?  Would you have the children move out of the way so you could sweep it up yourself?  Would you give the child a small sweeper and have the child sweep it up as you supervised their work?  Would you laugh or would you scold?


This is one of those golden opportunities where as adults, we have a choice to make and this choice could turn into a teachable moment.  Our tone, the way we approach the child can direct this into a positive or a negative interaction.  So I walked up to the children and said, “Look at all this great soap dust we have!  What do you think will happen if we add water?”  Some said, “make bubbles!” and others were not sure.  I instructed the children to remove their socks and place them on the shoe rack and I handed each child a wet scrubbing sponge.  The children more than obliged and hand-scrubbed the kitchen floor and between each tile.  I let them be to scrub the floor, checking in a few minutes later to see they went beyond the area where the soap dust originally spilled and scrubbed the whole floor in its entirety.  I then collected the sponges and gave each child a towel to dry the floor with, and taught a lesson on how to hang a wet towel on a drying rack. 

Of course, I had to go back over it with the mop quickly to dry the floor a bit more, but wow- that floor was cleaner than I could have gotten it with the mop!  And this experience was incredibly satisfying and empowering for the children as they got to explore cause and effect (water plus soap equals bubbles), they explored with their senses (touching, feeling, spreading the soapy suds)  and had a great muscle work out.


This is a great example of how we practice natural consequences in a Montessori classroom and redirect behaviors.  It may seem small, but all of these small daily experiences with your child are what culminates into their childhood experience. I invite you to think of ways in which we can react to a situations with our children that can meet our aim (i.e. clean up the mess) but also meet the needs of the child in a way that will result in Joy.

Lisa MarunaComment