It's been on my mind for a while. I had been making Otis' school lunches for him and I felt really bad about it. I honestly just wasn't organised enough. I often made his lunch late at night, baking at the last minute to fill the lunch box. Argh not ideal. It's not really about being organised it's about priorities, knowing what is important and just finding the time to make it happen. So why is it important they do it themselves?
Practical Life without a further purpose is like an isolated part of an action plan, like a factory worker who is only allowed to put in one screw over and over and never see the whole. The question arises as to whether children in classrooms where Practical Life activities serve a practical purpose engage in their work with more heart than in classrooms where they reflect this modification?
Still today, the child washes a table in the classroom because the tables do need washing. The child polishes his or her own leather shoes, so they will look shiny and nice. The child arranges lovely flowers and sets them around the room for beautification, waters real plants for their sustenance, irons napkins and makes muffins for snack, and so on. Real, true purposes.
Modified Practical Life activities are ones that do not reflect what we actually do: polishing a model shoe instead of the shoe one wears, lifting cotton balls with tongs and moving them from one jar to another [one might use tongs with ice or olives, but not cotton balls!], using a dropper to move liquids from one vessel to another for no purpose other than the movement, hammering plastic nails into clay—why? We do not know whether children of three to six years of age detect the difference between polishing their own shoes and a model shoe, or have a different sense about grating soap simply to practice grating versus grating cheese for a pizza they will make. But one would expect they do.
It's not just about practical life. We buy expensive games, toys, electronic devices, there are millions of Pinterest pins dedicated to Montessori activities but we aren't organised enough (or don't have enough time or whatever the reason) to allow the child the opportunity to make their own school lunch. What is going on here?
Perhaps we don't value the real experience. Perhaps we don't see the opportunity that is in front of us. Grating, peeling, chopping, spreading, using tongs, making sandwiches are really good for the child's developing fine motor skills. The child is capable of doing these! The child is learning about making good nutritional choices. The child is learning real life skills. The child is seeing the process from start to finish (perhaps they can even help select the food from the market). They are feeling empowered. There is no better, practical, hands on way for the child to learn this! They are learning and experiencing so much more than what they would using a toy or a screen.
How do we make it happen in a practical sense? I've always tried to bake as much as possible on a Sunday. Baking muffins and mini frittatas. These are great for snacks but don't usually last for long. When cooking dinner I try to make extra pasta, chicken or fish so there are enough left overs for lunch boxes. I try to have good range of food ready to go (fruit, vegetables, cheese, yoghurt) into the lunch box (remember organisation is my downfall).
When the children get home from school they will eat snack and have a short play and then make their lunches for the following day. I lack energy in the evenings (and sometimes lack patience) so I need the lunch boxes packed early. Usually I am in the kitchen preparing dinner so it's easy to supervise and to just be there. We will go to the refrigerator and Otis will pick out the things he would like for lunch. We take them to his little table next to the kitchen and he will make his lunch. I definitely help though, I might wash some fruit or cut the vegetables so they sit flat on the chopping board. And he doesn't make the same food choice as I would but overall it's sound and it balances it's self out. He usually eats all of his lunch but I am sure some children would eat more of their lunch if they had input into it's contents or helped to make it.
In my experience it is worth the effort, it is worth clearing the table or being organised or taking the extra ten minutes or even the half an hour it might take. Even my little your year old is super proud of going to school with the lunch he makes himself.