Practical Life

Areas of Practical Life

Practical Life ShelvesThe Practical Life exercises lay a very important foundation to the whole Montessori method of education, fulfilling the child’s plea: “Help me to do it myself”. Young children have a strong urge to become independent. Dr. Maria Montessori recognized that children need to be guided and given opportunities so that they learn how to do every day living activities in a purposeful way. She devised practical life activities help them to perfect these skills.

Quite often i get the feeling while speaking about the areas in my Montessori classroom, that generally, people need to know more about the Practical Life exercises. So often, it appears to be glossed over in parent discussion while the areas of Language and Math materials generate much more interest. For this reason, I wish to share additional information regarding the critical importance of the Montessori Practical Life exercises.

Many of the Practical Life exercises are tasks the child sees routinely performed in the home. They each serve a meaningful purpose as the child masters each piece of work such as dressing himself, pouring juice, sweeping, polishing or feeding the fish. Through all Practical Life exercises, a child will also develop and refine social skills. These skills developed through Practical Life build self-esteem, determination and independence.

Practical life exercises can appear quite simple and repetitive to an adult, but are actually highly purposeful.  When a child is engaged in such activities they demonstrates high levels of concentration, sense of order, and refinement of fine motor skills.  Also, they show a sense of independence through caring for oneself and the environment.  Furthermore, they show respect for  the other children and teachers in their class and develop a sense of pride.  Not only are these skills and qualities necessary to progress in the Montessori classroom, but they are also needed as an individual develops into adulthood.

The exercises of Practical Life fall into four major categories.

Care of the Self

Dressing Up AreaThis includes practical exercises such as:

Dressing – using zips, velcro, large and small buttons, press studs, hook & eye fastenings, buckles and laces, hand washing, nose blowing, cleaning one’s nose, and brushing teeth and hair.

All the activities connected with care of  yourself , such as teaching the child to be independent and dress themselves using specifically designed dressing frames incorporating the use of zips, velcro, and all of the others mentioned  above,  Learning how to blow your nose properly, brushing your teeth and your hair the correct way are activities belonging to what Dr. Montessori called ‘Practical Life’ and are precisely the tasks that adults like least. But between the ages of one and four years, children love these jobs and are delighted to be called on to participate in them.  Sewing and gardening or practicing grace and courtesy the child gains confidence and mastery of the environment.

After individual skills are refined, children apply them in purposeful work such as serving juice or polishing. Specifically, these activities contribute to the control and coordination of movement, development of concentration and the self-esteem that comes with making a real contribution to the group.

Care of the Environment

Watering FlowersHere we will be helping children with practical exercises such as:

Dusting, sweeping and polishing, using clothes pegs, taking care of indoor and outdoor plants, planting seeds, feeding animals and fish, cooking skills.

After the above individual skills are refined, children apply them in purposeful work, such as sieving flour, hanging up clothes on a child sized clothes line or helping feed the fish or dog.

Grace and Courtesy

Anna Kempten MontessoriIn the Montessori environment, social manners and interaction are called Grace and Courtesy. The child’s good manners are a reflection of his sincere desire to be helpful, kind and caring. Dr. Maria Montessori made this discovery when she observed the children’s reactions when one child helped out another, and all the children clapped spontaneously.

These activities are not found on the shelves in the classroom. Rather, the Montessori teacher introduces social graces and courtesies to the children, such as interrupting with ‘excuse me, helping out, table manners, serving and sharing foods, how to knock and enter a room, shaking hands and greeting. In this way the children gradually build the social skills of a polite society.

Control of Movement

This final area includes practical exercises such as:
Pouring and spooning; transferring, sorting and matching objects; opening and closing bottles, nuts, bolts and lunch boxes; threading and cutting; folding items.

Specifically, these activities contribute to the control and coordination of movement, development of concentration, and the self-esteem that comes with making a real contribution to the classroom group.

Benefits of practical life exercises

  • To help the child develop hand eye coordination
  • Help the child develop care of themselves and their environment
  • Help to strengthen self-confidence
  • Give a sense of personal independence and a sense of order
  • Encourage the child to behave with knowledge of good manners
  • Help to prepare the child for more complex skills in the future
  • Help a child to grow in intelligence, develop his or her self-esteem and his or her independence and make him valued and useful.

Practical life materials and exercises respond to the young child’s natural interests to develop physical coordination, care of self and care of the environment.