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Montessori Theory: More On Practical Life

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…

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A child finds joy in activities we adults view as work or as every day 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.

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, grace of movement, self-regulation, concentration, to behave with respect and with good manners, independence and self-esteem. 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.

“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 process that result from these exercises are important for any serious task the child will undertake.”

– Montessori: A Modern Approach

For example, these 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.

Materials within practical life are real in that they are functioning, breakable and resemble materials we’d see and used 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. Montessori introduced areas including:

Basic Procedures such as pouring, spooning, tweezing, basting, opening and closing containers, folding napkins

Care of Self such as dressing (buttoning, tying, snapping, zippering), hand washing, putting on a coat, sewing, polishing and food preparation

Care of the Environment such as table scrubbing, cloth washing, plant watering and dusting

Grace & Courtesy such as demonstrating good manners with proper greetings and goodbyes, sitting, moving the body, and silence (inner calm & listening)

Peace based on three levels of learning and awareness: inner self, classroom and globe

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.

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

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.

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.

Continue Reading: Montessori Theory: More On Practical Life

Thanks for reading!


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