What is Practical Life??

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When asked what most parents want for their children when they grow up, the response is typically for the child to be a happy, successful, confident and independent adult. How does the child get there though?

If teaching is to be effective with young children, it must assist them to advance on the way to independence. It must initiate them into those kinds of activities, which they can perform themselves. We must help them to learn how to walk without assistance, to run, to go up and down the stairs, to pick up fallen objects, to dress and undress, to wash themselves, to express their needs, and to attempt to satisfy their desires through their own efforts. All this is part of an education for independence.
— Maria Montessori, The Discovery of the Child
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Maria Montessori believed that children naturally are preparing to become adults. It is our responsibility as teachers, parents, and caregivers to prepare an environment and allow them to be responsible for the caring of their own classroom, home, self, and community. Allowing children to learn and practice these skills early on allows them to develop their sense of self discipline, confidence, and belonging.  This is the focus and purpose of the Practical Life area of the classroom. Indirectly, Practical Life activities also aid children in developing fine motor skills, concentration, and inner satisfaction from their work.

 

Many times, parents and society expect children to immediately begin working on academics. However, academic pursuits require the ability to focus and have concentration, to carry out a task from start to finish, and to complete steps in a sequential order. These skills are all required, learned, and improved through Practical Life activities.

 There are 4 main areas of Practical Life.

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1.    Preliminary activities – carrying a tray, pouring, spooning, tonging, walking on the line, how to roll and unroll a mat, opening and closing various containers, etc. These works provide the foundation for all subsequent works in the Montessori Classroom.

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2.    Care of the Environment –sweeping, dusting, watering plants, cleaning spills, sorting laundry, matching socks, folding napkins, washing dishes, flower arranging, etc.

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3.    Care of self – dressing, toileting, brushing teeth, bathing, combing hair, preparing food, setting the table, hand washing, blowing nose, using utensils, etc. These activities allow children to develop physical independence.

4.    Grace and courtesy – using table manners, greeting others, saying “please” and “thank you”, learning to control one’s own body, how to cover a cough and or sneeze, etc. These lessons are taught by the Montessori teacher rather than being found on shelves within the classroom environment. 

Practical Life activities allow children to practice not just at school but at home as well. Being patient and allowing your child to practice these skills at home lets them know they are not only capable and independent at school but also at home, thus building their confidence.

 Adults work to finish a task, but the child works in order to grow and is working to create the adult, the person that is to be.
— Maria Montessori

 It is important that we as adults allow the time for children to complete a task and not just immediately jump in and do it for them. It takes repetition, patience, kindness, and encouragement for children to gain mastery of skills. It is also extremely important that as we model these activities that we not only model each individual step of the process but also the joy of the process. Otherwise, children will feel that the task is meaningless and not important. 

So, how can you carry out these activities and skills at home?

  1. Obtaining child size materials for all areas of Practical Life. This is very important to allow the child to truly learn how to complete the task instead of focusing on adapting to the adult size tools. It is much easier for a child to sweep with a child-sized broom than an adult-sized broom. Try to set your child up for success.

  2. Remember that most of these tasks are routine for us as adults, and your child will need more time to complete them. Be patient, thank your child for helping, and acknowledge their hard work.

  3. Involve them in as many tasks as possible, and do the work alongside them.

  4. Give them options to choose from when asking them to complete a cleaning task. Ex. Would you like to sweep the floor or fold the laundry? 

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Happy cleaning!

-Katie, Taylor, and Madison