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The Importance of Practical Life in a Montessori Classroom

I just finished a Practical Life paper for my Montessori training. The paper is meant to be “parent-friendly”. Here is the result. I had to share the knowledge with you.

Practical life is one of five general curriculum areas within Montessori. Montessori practical Life work includes spooning, tweezing, pouring, sweeping, buttoning, and greeting, to name a few lessons.

a boy workin gon a tonging activity

Why is Practical Life so Important?

A child finds joy in activities we adults view as work or as an everyday routine. Once a child witnesses these activities in “real” life, he wants to model the activities, again and again.

Practical Life activities are typically introduced to the child first. The tasks are simple, precise, and involve activities that the child has already seen in his home and subsequently wants to mimic.

whatismontessori e

I particularly like how Dr. Maria Montessori describes the practical life area of the classroom in this quote:

The Montessori term that encompasses domestic work to maintain the home and classroom environment; self-care and personal hygiene; and grace and courtesy. Practical life skills are of great interest to young children and form the basis of later abstract learning.

What is Practical Life?

Practical Life activities prepare a child to be a productive, effective, and well-functioning person in our world.  The work is holistic in developing the child’s “whole self” by honing fine motor skills, the grace of movement, self-regulation, concentration, behaving with respect and with good manners, independence, and self-esteem.

A child peeling a banana

These exercises also develop an understanding of the process and order involved in a complete cycle of activity with a beginning, a middle and an end. The integration of self and understanding of the process that results from these exercises are important for any serious task the child will undertake.
– Montessori: A Modern Approach

One “ah-ha” that occurred during my training was that Practical Life is not simply about learning how to sweep {care of the environment} or to button a shirt {care of self} but it is much bigger than those goals.

Practical life is about preparing a child for life and about developing far less tangible skills, such as self-esteem, completing a cycle of work, self-sufficiency, problem-solving, confidence, and independence, all qualities that will help in life but also later in academic work.

A young girl buttoning a dressing frame

The major takeaway in my Montessori training was that Practical Life activities aren’t directly about teaching a child to clean and dress himself but more directly about completing a work cycle, concentrating, and being responsible for their environment (including a phenomenal peace curriculum).

The AMS writes:

Young children in Montessori classrooms learn to take care of themselves and their environment through activities such as hand washing, dusting, and mopping. These activities help toddlers and preschool-age children learn to work independently, develop concentration, and prepare for later work with reading and math; older children participate in more advanced activities.

a child cutting a cucumber

Practical Life activities indirectly prepare the child for reading and writing. Through Practical Life Activities, the child hones hand-eye coordination and muscle control and executes the tasks left to right and top to bottom preparing him for writing and reading.

Practical Life Materials

Materials within practical life are real in that they are functioning, breakable, and resemble materials we’d see and use in daily life. Montessori did not outline a specific set of Practical Life materials but instead created categories that included what she observed and believed to be the most relevant activities to a child’s life and to a child’s development.

Practical Life materials contain a “control of error” that, once a child has been introduced to a certain work, will help to guide that child to self-correct and self-learn. Therefore he has control over his education and his pace of development. He has the power to make choices within his work that will lead to success or failure. He will quickly be able to learn to follow his instincts and his interests.

Montessori Practical Life areas include:

  1. Basic Procedures such as pouring, spooning, tweezing, basting, opening and closing containers, folding napkins
  2. Care of Self such as dressing (buttoning, tying, snapping, zippering), hand washing, putting on a coat, sewing, polishing, and food preparation
  3. Care of the Environment such as table scrubbing, cloth washing, plant watering, and dusting
  4. Grace & Courtesy such as demonstrating good manners with proper greetings and goodbyes, sitting, moving the body, and silence (inner calm & listening)
  5. Peace is based on three levels of learning and awareness: inner self, classroom and globe

Responsibility of the Lead Teacher

The lead teacher is responsible for creating and arranging her own works to be presented beautifully, neatly, and orderly on the shelves based on isolation of difficulty (simple to complex) and indirect preparation.

When the lead teacher is demonstrating an activity she must use “economy of words” allowing the child to focus on her movements and not her words.

The child must grasp the work in a way that enables him to “teach” it to another person and in a way that is authentic in that he “owns” his version of the exercise.

a child squeezing a lemon

Aims of Practical Life

The aim of these activities was more than perfecting the tasks:

Although the exercises are skill oriented in the sense that they involve washing a table or shining one’s shoes, their purpose is not to master these tasks for their own sake. It is rather to aid the inner construction of discipline, organization, independence, and self-esteem through concentration on a precise and completed cycle of activity.
Montessori: A Modern Approach

Montessori Practical Life Quotes

“Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.”

“The first essential for the child’s development is concentration. The child who concentrates is immensely happy.”

“To give a child liberty is not to abandon him to himself.”

“To assist a child we must provide him with an environment which will enable him to develop freely.”

Teaching a child these activities and allowing him to participate in these every day life activities gives him joy, builds self worth and develops confidence. He feels the respect adults have in him and his ability to take care of his environment, himself and his learning of the world.

Finally, once a child achieves inner discipline, confidence and concentration as demonstrated through completing a full work cycle, the child is ready to move onto other materials within the Montessori classroom, such as the Sensorial materials.

Thank you!

Marnie

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