Homeschooling parents, do you use a Montessori style education? Then you’ll want this rubric for homeschool Montessori learning centers. Montessori is adaptable to homeschool, early childhood special education (ECSE) and preschool students. Both Montessori and special education employ learning areas (also called areas or learning stations) to engage children in hands-on, multisensory, individualized tasks. Even parents who don’t homeschool might like to set up their children’s playroom with learning centers. Learning stations focus on different content: reading, math, science, building, gross motor, art, dramatic play and practical life area. Here are ideas for preschool practical life learning areas.
Think child-sized. Learning centers are great for families living in small homes. Learning areas are a great organizational tool for small spaces and small spaces are ideal for creating child-sized environments that characterize Montessori, ESCE and preschool. In learning areas, parents and teachers recreate child-sized versions of adult activities. Design learning centers so they’re accessible and present materials and tasks at a child’s eye level for kids.
Focus on play as work (the Montessori mission statement). In learning areas children perform tasks that simulate grown up work. In practical life learning centers (also called house, housekeeping or life skills learning areas) children practice home management activities such as child care, cleaning, cooking, food preparation, laundry and grocery shopping.
Set up the environment. In practical life learning stations, place 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 buy anything fancy–children are very good at pretending (and such imagination is the core of a good preschool education). Arrange household items as you would in a real home. Put utensils in drawers and dishes in cupboards. Place play food in appropriate storage areas: cupboard, refrigerator, freezer. Cut small washcloths and towels from larger ones or use old ones. Set out cleaning supplies: small 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 preschool learning stations simple. Preschool pedagogues differ on how learning centers should be managed. Some theories like High/Scope insist that children use real adult-size tools and no plastic toys. But in homeschool practical life learning areas, do what works. Use whatever materials you already have: plastic food, dishes, toy ironing board. Cut the cord off old hand appliances–iron, coffee pot, toaster–and use those. Be sure to explain safety precautions about electricity, plugs, etc. Keep a list of needed items and request these items for birthday or Christmas gifts. Give learning center materials as birthday presents.
Rotate house area experiences and tasks. Change themes within your homeschool learning stations. Employ common preschool themes or follow holiday and seasonal calendars. House learning areas might also become a play store, doctor’s office, dentist, veterinary clinic or school. Always place appropriate books in your learning centers.
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 to imitate you with. As much as possible, toys should be returned to their proper places at the end of play.