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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

the Horseshoe Nail of the Montessori Classroom

The Hand Washing Exercise

For the want of a nail, the shoe was lost.
For the want of a shoe, the horse was lost.
For the want of a horse, the rider was lost.
For the want of a rider, the battle was lost.
For the want of the battle, the kingdom was lost.
All for the want of a horseshoe nail.

In an early book outlining Montessori education for Americans, Dorothy Canfield Fisher, the suffragette and Montessori enthusiast, wrote of petitioning Dr. Montessori to include water work in her classroom*. It is difficult to believe that the Doctoressa had not already required hand washing of her institutionalized original students. But perhaps in the midst of her perceptual sense training, she had neglected to consider formal training in water exercises. The practical life water exercises Dr. Montessori has left for us far exceed anything that Mrs. Fisher had suggested. And the hand washing exercise—far from being trivial —is the horseshoe nail of the Montessori classroom.

Why do Montessori classrooms work where others for young children seem at best to hobble along? Small children often have been considered incapable of learning because they couldn't learn the way six year olds do. Montessori saw that these three, four and five year old children actually had an incredible learning capacity. They learned from everything they saw, touched, tasted, smelled, and heard. We parents in the fear for their safety, or less forgivably because of our poor understanding of our children's needs, find their forays into sensorial experience inconvenient. We are a busy bunch and rarely does it occur to us to replace this missed opportunity for our child with a richer or safer one. Montessori classrooms do this. And while many children are sent parental messages to stifle sensory inquiry, Montessori children are given a classroom rich in sensory materials to expand theirs.

The Hand Washing Exercise
a small table or stand about thirty inches high with three hooks on the right side
a quart-size flat-bottom bowl or basin
a pint pitcher
a small terry towel (fingertip size)
a washcloth
a soap dish with a bar of soap
a small nail brush
a half gallon bucket
a sponge

Take the apron from its hook on the stand and put it on.
Pick up the pitcher and take it to a water source (like a sink or a large water container) to fill it.
Return and pour the water into the bowl. (This may take two trips.)
Place your hands in the bowl to wet them.
Pick up the soap and rub it on the palms of both hands, one at a time.
Put the soap back in its soap dish and rub your soapy palms together.
One at a time, use the opposite palm to rub the back of each hand.
Rinse your hands in the water bowl.
Pick up the soap and rub it on the palm of the right hand.
Put the soap back in its dish.
With your soapy right hand encircle your left thumb and rotate your hand to distribute soap.
Continue with each left finger until all are soapy.
Rinse your hands in the water bowl.
Pick up the soap again, this time rubbing it on the palm of the left hand.
Repeat the previous steps, washing the right fingers, then rinsing your hands.
Take towel from hook on stand and one at a time carefully dry both hands; rehang towel.
Place bucket on floor beneath bowl.
Pick up bowl, place its rim so that its edge touches just within the edge of the bucket.
Pour water into bucket.
Using sponge wipe out bowl and wipe off stand. Replace sponge
Carry bucket to sink (or waste water container) and pour out water.
Return bucket to exercise and remove and hang up apron.

*This is likely true since Dr. Momtessori herself penned the forward to Canfield Fisher's book.

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