Within the Primary classrooms where we are introduced to practical life work and lessons, care of the environment is a key component to the relationship and connection young children have to their space. Such a relationship is important to foster early on; the Directress and Assistant are not to be seen tidying up within the classroom during the day, as it is the children’s role to care for their environment. Such ownership is integral to the workings of the Children’s House.
Here is what Dr. Montessori had to say about the topic:
“The children of three years of age in the ‘Children’s Houses’ learn and carry out such work as sweeping, dusting, making things tidy, setting the table for meals, waiting at table, washing the dishes, etc., and at the same time they learn to attend to their own personal needs, to wash themselves, to take showers, to comb their hair, to take a bath, to dress and undress themselves, to hang up their clothes in the wardrobe, or to put them in drawers, to polish their shoes. These exercises are part of the method of education, and do not depend on the social position of the pupils; even in the ‘Children’s Houses’ attended by rich children who are given every kind of assistance at home, and who are accustomed to being surrounded by a crowd of servants, take part in the exercises of practical life . This has a truly educational, not utilitarian purpose. The reaction of the children may be described as a ‘burst of independence’ of all unnecessary assistance that suppresses their activity and prevents them from demonstrating their own capacities. It is just – these ‘independent’ children of ours who learn to write at the age of four and a half years, who learn to read spontaneously, and who amaze everyone by their progress in arithmetic.” (From Childhood to Adolescence, p. 66)
Part of the role of the Directress in this area is to help each child develop her awareness of the environment by continually providing them with points of interest. For example, a Directress may say, “Oh my! Our plants look dry. We should water them!” or “Look, there is rice on the floor. We should sweep it up!” When a child is aware of his environment and takes ownership over the space, he will begin to truly care for it.
Oftentimes, the youngest child will notice a spill on the floor and clean it up without prompting. As a child grows older, she will shift from the mindset of doing the work just to do it, to doing the work with a greater understanding of all who are positively affected by her work. When a child washes dishes, she washes dishes that someone else has dirtied. When she irons cloths, she is ironing the cloths that other children have washed. The work a child does in service to others is a hallmark of Montessori, and lays the foundation for the Grace and Courtesy for the following years. This larger cycle of activity benefits the whole group, which leads to an unconscious society of cohesion. Such is the beauty and harmony of the cohesive working community within each classroom.