Prepare young children for a life of service to the Church using simple, fun and practical activities inspired from Montessori education traditions.
by Heidi Indahl
What do Montessori education, preschool practical life and church service have to do with each other? Seemingly nothing, but maybe everything! Even if your child is years away from receiving their first Communion or joining the altar servers, it is never to early to start practicing. Here are 10 Montessori practical life activities for young children you can try at home and how they prepare your child for a life of service for the Church.
1. Walking The Line
In this exercise, Montessori students practice moving carefully through space without making a sound, walking heel-toe even while carrying a bell!
In sacred spaces, we all need to move slowly and carefully, and it’s never to early to start practicing. Set up this activity at home with a piece of painter’s tape on the floor. Encourage your child to first walk slowly and carefully. Then raise the difficulty by adding a bell, a tray with a glass of water, or other challenges. The next time you are at Mass you can draw the parallel between walking on the line and moving through our sacred spaces.
2. Flower Arranging
Particularly in rural parishes, parishioners often take responsibility for providing flowers and greenery for the sanctuary. One friend of mine brings flowers from her garden for the parish Mary statue every week!
Provide your child with a small vase, set of scissors, flower stems, and water. Demonstrate how to trim leaves and arrange a mix of greens and blooms in the vase. No need to purchase flowers, year round there are likely a variety of fresh and dry foliage that you can harvest from your yard. Even sticks can be beautiful and give you an opportunity to discuss tying our household decorations to liturgical seasons. Pay attention to the flowers in your own parish, and find out who is in charge. They may just be tickled pink to have an interested and engaging assistant!
With all the beautiful brass in many of our churches, have you ever stopped to think what happens if no one is left who knows how to care for it? Most of us probably don’t have much brass service ware, but it is easily found at most thrift stores for practice. If you aren’t familiar with how to polish, take a peek at YouTube and find a video that works for the materials you have. Twice per year, our local shrine has a cleanup day, and one group always ends up in the church polishing! What a neat way to serve.
4. Folding Napkins
One unique facet of Montessori education is intentionality of movement. When we fold a cloth or wash a table, we do it in a way that uses exactly the same movements in the same pattern each time, emphasizing each movement as important to the process. The only other place I have seen such intentionality is by a priest or deacon clearing the altar at the conclusion of the eucharistic feast.
At home, it doesn’t much matter which procedure you follow as long as you emphasize perfect clean folds. And once you child has mastered the napkin or wash cloth, it’s time to tackle their own laundry!
5. Pouring From a Pitcher
In Montessori schools, students practice transferring a variety of materials carefully from one vessel to another without spilling a drop. Have you ever stopped to think how much pouring is involved in the various preparations and cleanup at the altar during the Liturgy of the Eucharist? It might seem strange to think that anyone doesn’t know how to pour carefully between two containers, but it’s true. Practice now so when your son is one day ordained a priest, he will know how to handle that precious chalice with all of the care it deserves!
6. Using a Wash Basin and Pitcher
I have only seen a washbowl and pitcher used two places in my adult life: a Montessori classroom and at the altar. Not only is washing this old fashioned way guaranteed to keep your little one busy for quite some time, your child will be ready when they serve Easter Vigil for the bishop and present the bowl and pitcher for handwashing several times in one Mass! While a matched set is a nice luxury, any pitcher and basin will do.
7. Moving a Chair
This one comes in handy altar serving but also just in any service! Setting up for funerals, cleaning up after the parish festival … the list goes on. It might seem self-explanatory but the next time you are stuck inside on a rainy day, make a game of moving chairs quietly and carefully. How quickly can you move the chairs without running or bumping into anything? How quiet can you be? Sure you could learn this one as you go, but then what would the fun of that be?
8. Observing Silence
In Montessori classrooms, there is a heavy emphasis on peace, including the internal peace of silence. From a young age, children seek and practice silence. Play the silence game. Try some relaxation music. Observe silence at home, and it will be drastically easier for your child to observe silence while assisting at Mass each week.
9. Setting the Table
Does your child know how to properly arrange plates, cups, forks, and more? Do they know how to eat off of a proper place setting? Make your feast day table (or even your everyday table) extra special by using a full place setting.
In many Montessori classrooms, they have special cloth placemats for placing each dish and piece of cutlery. You could make your own cloth placemats at home, or trace your dinnerware to make a custom paper set that matches your dishes. Use it for a day or laminate it to last much longer. This knowledge might come in handy some day when setting up for a special event, wedding, youth fundraiser, or funeral.
10. Candle Lighting
A lighted candle is something special to behold. Observe the flickering lights and smell the sweet smoke. Most children instinctually know that when they have been given the opportunity to light a candle themselves they have been trusted with a great responsibility. Our faith is also a great responsibility with which we have all been trusted.
While all of the practical skills in this post are valuable for serving the church, I added this skill because I think it is useful in serving our own faith needs and that of our children. Add a candle to your family prayer time and watch your child glow when, after diligent practice, you hand them the match.