In the Montessori environment, the primary purpose of all Practical Life activities is to assist the child in acquiring self-discipline (order, concentration, coordination, and independence). For Montessori, discipline is not to be confused with passive immobility ("Be quiet!" "Be still!"), but refers to purposeful work. By directing the child's actions to a purposeful end, their behavior no longer has the appearance of disorder, but of meaningful work. Although there are innumerable examples of Practical Life activities (limited only by the imagination of the child's guide) with differing aims, my belief is that the most effective ones for helping children acquire self-discipline are those that permit them to imitate adult activity in a purposeful way, to care for themselves (and be more independent), or to contribute positively to their community by caring for the classroom environment.
Like all Montessori guides, I am always on the lookout for new Practical Life activities, but I try to be really discriminating- personally, I have a definite aversion to plastic materials and I definitely prefer "classic" Care of the Self or Care of the Environment activities to endless variations of hand transfers. So, you can imagine my excitement when the newest Montessori Services catalogue arrived with this on the cover:
But, hammering nails into a tree stump... that is truly inspired! The stump is beautiful, pleasant smelling, makes a nice sound when struck, and very stable- allowing the child to concentrate all of their efforts on hitting the nail. In short, it is the perfect first hammering activity! Pounding nails is a very pleasant, centering, soothing past time, and sure enough, children seem to adore it!
The lovely oak stump that the children are using was donated by Fred Bustamante Wood Products. When we offered to pay, he gave us a kind, unassuming shrug and said "It's for the kids." Indeed! Thank you for your kindness!