(Please note: All images in this post are copyright Julie Rings Photography. Also, the post contains affiliate links. Thank you for your support!)
During my AMI Primary Training course, we spent most of our time creating albums for each area of The Children's House environment: Practical Life, Sensorial, Language. and Mathematics. Each album is basically a teacher's manual filled with background information about a particular area and step-by-step instructions for giving each lesson. Instead of the trainers just handing us ready-made manuals, students make their own lesson "plans." I found this method to be really helpful because I wrote the lessons in such a way that they make sense to me and are useful to me. If I forget how to execute a particular lesson, I just refer to the album in which it appears.
The first lessons we wrote were the Preliminary Exercises of the Practical Life album. These exercises are wonderful for so many reasons. They are the first lessons a child receives when she or he first enters the environment. They welcome the child to the classroom -- activities that invite the child to touch and explore their new environment. Through these exercises they learn how to move about the environment and how to interact with the materials. In addition, these lessons create a bridge between home life and school life. One of the first lessons a child receives is how to roll and unroll a mat for floor work. Each lesson has a designated "work space" either at a table or a floor mat. Some of the lessons that were presented to me at a table I took the liberty of allowing on a floor mat. My only rule is pouring activities and materials with glass must be completed at a table. The children learn that the mat is for the material and that we should not sit on them or walk on them. We're still working on that ;)
In addition to welcoming the child to the environment, the Preliminary Exercises are activities that set the groundwork for later lessons in the area of Practical Life and beyond. The lessons of Opening and Closing Boxes and Opening and Closing Bottles/Jars (seen in the photos below) were the easiest to implement from day one of the summer co-op. They are not only fun for the child but these exercises prepare the hands for other work with small, fragile or delicate materials, and if available, opening bottles will prepare the child for opening the bottles in later exercises such as the polishing work.
Most of the work I have shown the children this summer falls under the category of Preliminary Exercises, so stay tuned for more of these lessons.
Here are ten easy steps for creating your own "Opening and Closing" Lessons...
Opening and Closing Boxes
1. Select a small tray (or basket) that is light enough for the child to carry but still sturdy enough to hold several boxes.
2. Collect 6-8 attractive boxes with lids that fit well and are not too difficult to open and close. (Currently, 4 out of my 6 boxes are "attractive." The soapstone box I purchased here. I am always keeping my eye out for dainty little boxes that I can use to replace the 2 plain paper boxes I have on this tray. I'd love a hand-carved wooden one, but the ones I see in stores are so expensive!)
- In addition to being attractive, try to gather boxes made of a variety of materials: wood, metal, ceramic, stone, fabric, and paper.
- The boxes should easily close from all sides, so choose squares and circles. Basically, no matter how you turn the lid, it should fit. In a traditional classroom, this exercise is eventually put away and taken out only if/when a new child joins the class.
- For use at home, after your child has worked with it a while, you can keep this exercise interesting by swapping out the boxes for new ones (that you hopefully come across during international travel!). You can also make it more challenging by having one or two boxes that are more difficult to open and close, such as a unique shape or a top that slides in and out. More than that would cause too much frustration.
3. Arrange the boxes on the tray, and set the tray on a shelf that the child can easily access.
4. Invite the child to do the activity. Demonstrate how to hold the tray, put it back on the shelf, and then invite the child to take it to a work table.
The following steps should be done without speaking.
5. With slow, deliberate hand movements, take out one box, set it in the middle of the work space, and carefully remove the lid or top.
6. Set the bottom down to the left side of the table and the top to the right (with the decorative part facing up).
7. Repeat with the other boxes making sure the "matches" are not across from each other. You are making a sort of matching game.
8. Say, "Now that the boxes are open, I am going to close them."
9. Take the bottom of the box closest to you, find its match, and replace the lid. Return the box to the tray.
10. Repeat with the other boxes, and invite the child to have a turn.
Opening and Closing Bottles and Jars
1. Select a basket (definitely a basket because the little glass bottles will fall over a lot on a tray) that holds 6-8 bottles. (I picked up a silverware basket from Daiso that works really well.)
2. Collect 6-8 beautiful bottles, mostly glass, but metal is OK. They should have a variety of tops or lids: screw-on, cork, etc. (I got a mini flask from Cost Plus World Market, a small jar from Daiso, the corked vials here, and the perfume bottles from here.)
3. Follow the same steps as you did for the boxes exercise, only be sure that when you set down a screw top or cork that the part that goes inside the bottle is facing up, which is a good habit to encourage. If it becomes habit, when a child opens a bottle of wood polish, for example, the polish residue on the cap won't touch the table.