Practical Life

Have you ever walked into a Montessori classroom and noticed a quaint tableu where children are doing ordinary every tasks, some of which can even be considered old fashioned? Sewing, washing tables, polishing wood, pouring liquids, watering plants, etc. This is Practical Life.

The heart of the classroom

Practical Life is one of the main areas of a Montessori environment. It consists of a variety of every day activities which children thoroughly enjoy and bring them great satisfaction. These works are based on everyday routines and practices we all do in our everyday lives, adapted for little hands.

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

Maria Montessori

These tasks are the foundation of the Montessori classroom , it is through repeated exercised of everyday life that children gain coordination, concentration, order, and indepence. Additionally they do also gain pretty practical skills! Sewing buttons, preparation for cooking and writing, being able to take care of their environment and themselves are all indirect goals of this area of our classrooms.

This is often the most loved and used area of our classroom, where it is not uncommon to see all chairs occupied by children doing different activities and the low background noise of busy working children.

How do the practical life materials develop order, coordination, concentration, and independence?

Children are naturally interesting in the things they see going on around them. Through Practical Life activities we allow them to participate in them and gain the skills necessary to do so. We demonstrate how to do these activities, and then the child can repeat them and perfect them as many times as they wish.

Children in early childhood go through a sensitive period of order, in which they need objects and routines and activities to be predictable and consistent. Order is present everywhere in our classroom - from the carefully arranged shelves sorted by area and skill, to our consistent daily cycles, to the individual activity trays, which are carefully laid out with the materials needed in sequential order and ready to go. These works allow the children to fulfill this inner need and repeat these works however many times they desire.

This repetition and activities which involve real beautiful (and breakable!) objects encourage our children to slowly refine their movements and become more graceful and intentional in them, increasing their coordination. Concentration can be seen in their faces as they focus intently on transfering the last drop of water, or on how the texture of little sea shells feels, or on sewing up a line of evens stitching - even on children as young as 2.5 we can see them reaching deep levels of concentration, from which they will emerged energized and joyful.

Increased independence is a natural consecuence of the practical life works, as through them they are building their sense of self and how they can belong and controbute to communical activitites and the upkeep of their environment and care of themselves.

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

Maria Montessori

Basic areas of Practical Life

Generally speaking, we can divide most of the works into several different areas, though they will often encompass more than one.

Coordination of movement

Repetition will refine children's movements until it becomes graceful and fluid, almost second nature to them. For example, our progression with the use of hand transfer tools from hands to spoons to tweezers (even chopsticks!) will slowly develop fine motor control, hand eye coordination and strength - all in preparation for writing!

Grace and courtesy

Children will learn how to navigate social situations and conflicts, they will learn what the expect behaviours in our culture and environment. We frequently role play situations like meeting new people, and asking friends if we can participate in the activity they are working on. Birthday celebrations are beloved events in the Montessori classrooms, which families are encouraged to participate in.

Care of the environment

These are those real life activities that have to do with mantaining their environment and livign in harmony - from watering plants and cleaning their leaves, to feeding any classroom pets and dusting the shelves. Scrubbing tables is often a really fun one the children really enjoy, as is polishing wood.

Care of self

In order to grow in independence, chilren also learn to take care of themselves and their things. From hand washing, to preparing their own snack and learning to sew buttons or even embroider. Snaps, buttons, buckles and laces are all challenges to be mastered. Be sure to ask your child to show you the Montessori way to put on their coat!

We also try to incorporate different forms of mildfulness into our days. Both through setting out calming and peaceful activitites, and through group activitites like yoga or guided meditation.

Snack and food prep

We have a little kitchen area where self serve snacks are available most of the morning. Fruit, veggies, and often an easy carb. Children can prepare their own snack whenever they are hungry and are responsible for cleaning up after themselves.

These are concrete real life applications of the skills they have been learning through practical life activities: pouring, measuring, scooping, peeling, spreading.

Additionally, Friday is cooking day! Where we make a special recipe, often related to the focus areas we have been studying. Depending on the week this might be a whole class cooking project in which we all participate, or an individual one. Some examples of what the children have been cooking up throughout the year are cucumber sandwiches, vegetable soup, apple tarts, sushi bowls, lemonade, arepas, quesadillas, and many more. Cooking day is one of the highlights of our week.

“We do not teach the children these things [practical life activities] to make little servants of them, but because we have observed that of their own accord children actually take the greatest interest in perfecting all the movements of daily life. ”

Maria Montessori

What about the older children, do they also enjoy this?

Yes! They may no longer reach out for some of the more foundational works on the shelves which they might have already mastered, but they definitely still enjoy them. Sewing and braiding can be more fullfilling as they gain in fine motor control.  They are now able to follow longer and more precise sequences, and we will make sure they have ample opportunities to do so.

They will also often act as gentle leaders to the younger children, which is a very enriching experience for all involved. As children come closer to the second plane of development, they themselves start to become aware of their role as mentors to their younger friends, as well as becoming more aware and attentive to the upkeep ad beauty of the environment.

When a child is three, they might scrub a table because they enjoy the movements and the feel of the soap, the sound of the brush. A chld of 6, might notice that something is dirty and needs to be cleaned.