Practical Life: Hand-Washing

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A three-year-old educated according to Montessori pedagogy becomes a master of his hand and undertakes with a joy a variety of human activities. These activities allow him to develop the power of concentration.”     – San Remos Lectures, p. 27

Hand-washing is one of the earliest complex Practical Life activities introduced in the Primary Classroom. Robyn Milos, former Children’s House Directress and current Education Director at Villa di Maria, shares the magic of hand-washing:

“In the Children’s House, this activity is not the utilitarian version that is used throughout the day at the sink, but a stand-alone table with a pitcher and basin. The activity becomes more of a meditation of the hands. The water, bubbles, and nail brush entice the young child. The many points of interest – the nail brush, scrubbing and drying each finger, pouring water, and waiting for the last drop, and applying lotion afterwards – guide the child as she lengthens and strengthens her concentration on this lesson in caring for the self.”

The hand-washing activity was born in the first Casa di Bambini and was introduced out of necessity. It was shown to elicit tremendous concentration, focus, and joy far beyond the point at which their hands were clean. Maria Montessori, in her keen scientific observations, noted that something about this activity was satisfying an inner need of the young child.

Heather Steinman, Directress in Primary Three at Villa di Maria, shared in a previous blog post, entitled Mini Montessorians, that she imagines that as a young child, she would have been drawn to hand washing:

“As an adult, I have watched many a child completely lose themselves in the process of hand washing. It is always fascinating to observe them as they meditate on the preparation of their most useful tool: their hands.”

As with many things in the Montessori environment, there is so much more going on than initially meets the eye. What beautiful, thoughtful work!