I'm a certified special needs teacher and a former home school parent. I also taught in a Montessori school. Both Montessori and special education follow a learning center-based classroom model. Learning centers (also called areas or stations), engage children in hands-on, multi-sensory tasks. Each center focuses on different activities: reading, math, science, building, gross motor, art, dramatic play and practical life. When I taught our kids at home, I brought the learning center concept into our home. If you've got preschool kids or are a home school parent, why not try the learning center approach? Here's how this Montessori mom set up a practical life learning area.
* Think child-sized. We've always lived in small homes. With a family of six, I didn't have much room to work with. Small areas work great for learning centers, especially the practical life areas. The focus is on kid-sized versions of adult activities. Design learning centers so they're accessible and at eye level for kids.
* Focus on play as work. In the practical life area, children perform tasks that simulate grown up work. The practical life learning center (also called the house, housekeeping or life skills area) is where kids practice home management activities: child care, cleaning, cooking, food preparation, laundry, shopping.
* Set up the environment. Set up a play sink, refrigerator, stove, cupboards, washing machine and dryer. Don't have these? Make them out of cardboard boxes. There's no need to be fancy; children are very good at pretending. Arrange household items as you would in a real home. Put utensils in drawers and dishes in cupboards. Place food in appropriate storage: cupboard, refrigerator, freezer. Cut small washcloths and towels from larger ones or use old ones. Set out cleaning supplies: vacuum, dust mop, broom, iron. Baby dolls and doll furniture should be near the kitchen so "parents" can keep an eye on their "children."
* Keep it simple. Preschool pedagogues differ on how learning centers should be managed. Some insist that children use real adult-size tools and no plastic toys. Those expectations are fine for school, but for home practical life areas, do what works. Use whatever materials you already have: plastic food, dishes, toy ironing board. Keep a list of needed items and use it for birthday or holiday shopping.
* Rotate experiences and tasks. Learning centers often change themes. The home environment might be changed to become a play store, doctor's office, dentist, veterinary clinic or school,
* Encourage appropriate interaction. Children should use toys as if they were real items. Demonstrate proper cleaning, cooking, child care and home management skills. Model how tasks should be done. When teaching cleaning or cooking tasks, give the child a small tub or spray bottle of water, As much as possible, toys should be returned to their proper places at the end of play.
Your children will love these grown-up learning experiences.