Practical Life is the area in the Montessori Early Years curriculum that develops among others the motor coordination and control of young children. Children are provided with everyday items such as spoons and jugs. Children are naturally drawn to these items that they see in their own homes. They are shown how to use these items and given time to practice with them. It is satisfying for the young child to be able to use these items to carry out the daily tasks that they see adults perform.
Pouring is one of the practical life activities. Children develop this skill through a series of carefully graded activities. They start pouring with identical containers. They advance on to pouring into equal containers. Further activities can still be planned to allow them to continue to refine and perfect their pouring ability.
Pouring Into Two or More Different Containers
In this exercise, the child is challenged to pour into containers of different sizes. Place on a tray a jug of water and two containers varying in size and shape. Subsequent exercises will involve even more containers. With repeated practice, the young child will learn to control the pouring hand to stop pouring when the target container is full enough. The attraction this time will definitely be the different containers offered. Carefully selected materials will draw the child to work with this activity. A nice variation is to use plastic jelly trays with different shaped molds.
Applying Pouring Skills in the Classroom
The ability to pour into different containers will come in handy when children participate in the housekeeping of the practical life shelves. At the end of each school day, make it a practice to have the children pour into storage containers contents such as beans, lentils and grains that are used in the pouring and transferring activities. Food items that are left exposed on the open shelves may attract unwanted guests such as cockroaches and rats. Similarly, empty the water used into a container. The collected water can be re-used for general cleaning purposes. The children can refill the different containers when they come into class the next day.
Other activities that require the ability to handle different containers include pouring ingredients into various vessels during cooking sessions as well as filling up paint pots at the art corner. The independence children experience is truly liberating and is a tremendous boost to their sense of self.
Pouring and Judgments About Quantity
Pouring into different containers can also lead to mathematical awareness, in particular an appreciation of quantity. Have children pour water into one container. They look at the next container and predict whether it will hold more or less water than the first container. They test their prediction by pouring the water from the first container into the second. They do the same with the rest of the containers.
The teacher could also set up a tray with different containers, all of which are able to hold equal amounts of water. Again, have them predict which container holds the most water. Children will be pleasantly surprised by the result.
Children at this age have problems with logical reasoning and they make judgments about quantity based on what they see, as suggested by Piaget’s test on conservation of liquid quantity. Looking at only the height of the container, children think that the tall but narrow container holds more water than the short and wide one, for instance. It is therefore important for young children to have hands-on experiences in exploring quantity to try out their emerging concepts of “more”, “less” and “the same”.
Pouring Into Containers With a Marked Level
For this exercise, use clear containers. Mark the target level with a dark colored line all around the container. The child is shown how to pour up to the marked level. For this, the child’s hand must be sufficiently controlled as the eye focuses on the marked level. The child can then advance on to containers with more marked lines.
Pouring to a marked level comes in handy in other activities. During cooking sessions, children with numeracy skills can work independently with measuring cups, pouring the required amount of ingredients such as olive oil, milk, flour or sugar to bake muffins or fry pancakes.
This skill is also needed in a music activity where children pour water into identical glasses, each marked with a different line. This creates musical glasses filled with different levels of water. They strike the glasses with a spoon to hear different tones and go on to create music.
In short, refining pouring skills in the early years not only improves fine motor control. Pouring skills can also be applied to other areas of the curriculum, helping the child to appreciate this skill as an important life skill.