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Eden Prairie Montessori

The Exercises of Practical Life

John Locke said a child's mind is like a blank slate; or, to put it more contemporarily, an iPad without software. He believed experience alone determines who a child will be. 

Perhaps some dispositions are bred in the bone. Who can say? But Locke sure was right about one thing. Children do learn from experience. In fact, it’s the only thing they’ll ever learn from. 

Decorum. Propriety. Savoir faire. You have these qualities in spades. (All Eden Prairie Lifestyle readers do.) And your child, who has been blessed to learn from the best, is already starting to handle themself like a real cool cat. Your child is also fortunate to model their deportment after someone who works hard to take care of their family – and therein lies the rub. How can you make sure your child is still learning to function as a good human being when you’re not around to show them how?

“Everything in this world starts with children,” said Shonali Harrison, director of Eden Prairie Montessori. “If you want to fill the world with peace, love and kindness, then you have to raise children with the same. 

“But loving your neighbor isn’t enough. You also have to be a good neighbor yourself! That’s why our Montessori preschool program teaches the Exercises of Practical Life: care of oneself, care of one’s environment, control over one’s movement, and grace and courtesy.

“Washing your hands. Buttoning your shirt. Putting on your shoes. Blowing your nose into a tissue. These are the maneuvers of self-reliance – acts of self-care every child must master. And they are eager to! They just need warm, enthusiastic teachers who will show them.

“When I say we teach children to care for their environment, I only mean their immediate surroundings (they can solve global warming when they’re older). Cleaning up crumbs they’ve left on the floor. Returning books they’ve read back to the shelf. Hanging their coats back on their hooks. We also encourage children to help their parents fold the laundry, set the table, load the dishwasher – anything they can do to be more considerate of others and their surroundings.

“Teaching a child to control their own movement does much more than develop their motor skills. It gives them confidence, poise and coordination. To be sure, we aren’t training ballet dancers. We’re just showing children how to move with purpose by teaching them exercises like balancing on one foot, activities as simple as opening a box or as complicated as creating yarn art, and sensible habits like waiting until recess to run around.

“Grace and courtesy grease the wheels of social interaction. That’s why we model good manners and reward children with praise whenever they follow suit. While some of the finer points of etiquette can only be taught, children do show an amazing natural aptitude for civility. They want to greet their classmates nicely each day. They want to offer their sincere apologies whenever they’ve committed a faux pas. They want resolutions to conflicts that make everyone happy. So long as they have an environment where grace and courtesy are easy to express, children take every opportunity to express them.

“We see children mastering the Exercises of Practical Life in so many different ways. The other day I observed a little girl arranging flowers in a vase. ‘Oh, it’s so pretty,’ she said to herself. ‘I wish I could take this home.’ But instead she placed it at the snack table, where all her friends could enjoy looking at her fine handiwork. 

“We have one little boy who truly took the importance of pushing in chairs to heart. Once he understood that a misplaced chair could make someone trip and fall, he deputized himself as our de facto chair pusher. ‘Oh, Miss Shonali! That chair isn’t pushed in! I’m on it.

“One time another little girl saw her classmate get upset after accidentally soaking herself at the hand sink. ‘Oh no, you’ve got it all over you!’ she said. ‘Shall I help you change?’ No provocation. No teasing. Just heartfelt consolation for a distressed classmate.

“These are all little things, admittedly. But they are all part of the one, big important thing we do: setting up children for happiness and success by teaching the skills they’ll need to navigate life.”

Eden Prairie Montessori offers two convenient locations at 7455 Market Place Drive and 8098 Glen Lane. You may learn more at edenprairiemontessori.com, or schedule a showing with Shonali at (952) 944-8466 or info@epmontessori.net.

Loving your neighbor isn’t enough. You also have to be a good neighbor yourself!

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