Magazine article Montessori Life

What Does "Practical Life" Look like in the Middle-School Years?

Magazine article Montessori Life

What Does "Practical Life" Look like in the Middle-School Years?

Article excerpt


Iam standing with a group of 10 middle-- school students in th London Under ground. It's cold and, of course, foggy, and we're all tired with jet lag. It's 7:30 A.M. and we have an appointment with a local tour guide in the Financial District at 8. The students are huddled together looking at a map of London's "tube." The adults purposely stand in the background, listening with amusement as the "navigator" for the day checks his watch, checks the map, then looks for support from the group of kids who are depending on him.

"Yes! It's color-coded! Man, I wish our NY subway were this easy! OK, we just need to take the blue line to Piccadilly Square and then it's a few blocks walk. J.D., does this look right, dude?"

" Uh, let me see, yeah, but you gotta get on going downtown, not uptown. We gotta get to the other side of the track. "

It's these kinds of conversations between my middle-school students over the years that inspire me to continue putting field trip navigation in the hands of 11- to 13-- year-olds. Of course, you don't have to cross the Atlantic to give kids the chance to master public transportation; any city and the right preparation in the classroom beforehand will do.

Practical Life is one of my favorite aspects of Montessori education and the middle-school years, in particular, offer so much opportunity for preparing our children to handle the everyday tasks they are capable of doing and will need to hone as they approach adulthood. They are so eager at this age to take on responsibilities that define them as no longer young children.

Ten years ago I helped found the middle school at Princeton Montessori School. Since then we have added many Practical Life lessons to the program. As thisis a cornerstone of Montessori education, it's nothing new to head teachers, but we each enrich our classrooms specific to the culture we live in. In Princeton,we've found some great approaches to very common skills development.

To begin with, who doesn't know a preadolescent who is eager to begin earning money? From 11 to 13, they definitely don't need to be talked into the idea that their time and effort are worth cold, hard cash. The thing they don't realize is that they may be lacking any of the job readiness a potential employer will expect of them!

This is where Practical Life skill training comes in. There are many opportunities for the middle-school students to work: babysitting, car washing, raking leaves, painting, shoveling snow, etc. Of course, there are many jobs that just get done for free as a member of a family; these should not be paid for.


So how do we prepare them for job readiness? We start by discussing things like commitment, first impressions, follow-through, appearance, and quality of job. The students then write up a resume, of sorts, that lists their skills relevant to what they would like to be hired for. They include their age, phone number, name of parents, experience, and a reference.

We take them through a mock interview, show how to shake hands confidently, to sit down only after one is asked, and work on posture and language. Jobs are then created at the school, such as serving as waiters at our annual parent faculty auction. The kids write a letter if they are interested in applying for the job, interview with the auction committee leaders, and may then be hired, given an hourly rate, and told their responsibilities and who their supervisor will be.

After the event they are given a written evaluation as to how they performed as an employee. The supervisor in charge also offers a recommendation for future jobs if he/she thinks the student has done a good job.

Sarah was cooperative, enthusiastic, and eager to please. If I were to hire her again, I would suggest she be sure to be on time, ready to perform herjob. She used about the first fifteen minutes getting herself ready in the bathroom. …

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