A Montessori Moment: Looking at Direct and Indirect Purposes of the Children’s Work

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When presenting Montessori practical life lessons, the guide is trained to understand that the works have both direct and indirect purposes.  Contrary to what you may think, the direct purposes of the practical life works are to develop skills such as concentration, motor control, and independence.  The indirect purposes are a clean a table, a prepared snack, or a washed napkin.  For example, our goals in teaching children to scrub a table are: 1. to help lengthen their ability to focus on a task; 2. to engage their large muscles through carrying a bucket of water, using big arm movements with a scrub brush, and strengthening hand muscles through squeezing a sponge; 3.  independently managing the materials they need, developing a sense of order, and building confidence that they can “do it themselves.” These direct purposes are laying the foundation for later cognitive skills such as attending to a story, forming letters, writing sentences. Through such works, the child is learning that making mistakes is ok and to try again and again!  The child is also developing a sense of pride when they are seen as a purposeful member of their classroom community! (The indirect purpose of table scrubbing is a clean table)!

Recently, through a very organic sequence of events, a 3rd year student in Juan’s class was benefiting from a similiar experience of indirect and direct purposeful work!

With the stay-uppers’ excitement of tomorrow’s field trip, this student had asked Juan if the children could have a special treat (a cookie) at the farm, since it was a special occasion.  Juan engaged in a conversation with this child, encouraging thoughtful questions about how she could go about this process and find her answer.   This determined student decided she would write a note to our Head of School, Audrey.  As you can see from the image above (phonetically) she writes,”From Juan’s class: Audrey, can we bring cookies to the field trip to the farm”

The student then made an appointment with Audrey, to delivery the note in person.  Audrey and the child reflected together on fairness to the other stay-uppers (“should just Juan’s class have cookies, or all the stay-uppers?”); they collaborated together and came up with a plan to ask the other teachers if all the chilren can have a cookie at their field trip tomorrow.

After awaiting responses from the other teachers, Audrey went to visit Juan’s stay-uppers this afternoon and reflected with them, “Sometimes when we ask for things, we don’t always get what we want, and sometimes we do…”  Audrey was happy to deliver the good news (and cookies) that all the stay-uppers can have a special treat on their trip tomorrow!

Regardless if the students had received the cookies or not, there was great direct work happening–this student had executed a plan: prepared a written note, communicated confidently with the Head of School, and demonstrated empathy, patience and persistence.  The indirect result will be enjoying the treat with all the stay-uppers tomorrow. Also, a wonderful direct result is that this child felt an internal sense of pride that her ideas were heard and her actions had a real impact among her community of peers!


(side note to parents of stay-uppers: the stay-upper farm trip is today, Thursday, May 19th…the blog post notifications often do not appear in your inbox until hours later!)

Posted in 0-6 - Reena Morgan