“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
I find it fascinating how children have an innate desire to be a part of a community; to belong. They want to be involved in purposeful work, and to keep their tiny communities clean and orderly. It’s not necessarily something we have to teach, but something that can come about by providing the right tools, and making sure these tools are easily accessible. We model for the child how to carry about one’s body, how to handle fragile things, that everything we do has certain steps that have to be followed, and that their are effects or consequences for everything that we do. In Montessori, we teach the child skills that can be used in “real life”, beyond the classroom. These lessons are done so through their persistent participation in exercises of “practical life”.There’s much to be said about the Exercises in Practical Life, and how beneficial and extremely crucial they are to the child’s overall development. It’s through practical life works that the child learns concentration, focus, scope and sequence, pre-writing skills (cleaning a table with a bar of soap from left to right in circular motions), fine and gross motor development, small and large muscle development, they develop a sense of order, and generally learn to take pride in their work. They learn to be independent young adults, free to think critically and problem solve.
Practical Life activities contribute to the child’s sense of responsibility and accomplishment, and build self-confidence and self-esteem. Once the child has mastered these works, they can often move on to more complex works, well equipped with the skills necessary to complete these new tasks. In other words, we’re preparing them to succeed in the best way possible.
Practical Life consist of a variety of activities, focusing on four different areas:
- Preliminary Activities – how to roll/unroll a mat, close a door properly, walk around a friend’s work, walk on a line, etc.
- Care of Self – hand washing, self-grooming
- Care of Environment – dish washing, cloth washing, sweeping/mopping, plant care, setting the table
- Grace and Courtesy (Care of Others) – social graces, how to carry oneself about the community, “please” and “thank you”, how to ask the guide for help, and so forth
The child has an intrinsic motivation, or “desire” to work towards a greater purpose. Practical life fulfills that need in allowing the child to become a productive member of the classroom community. Their need is met by fulfilling the needs of the environment, and others around them.If you’re a Montessori momma or daddy and want to incorporate these works in your home environment, it’s actually quite simple. Encourage them to be independent by providing tools for them to fulfill their personal needs, and to care for the environment around them. Prepare little areas for them to have cleaning tools, or access to practical life materials (watering pail, duster, broom, etc). Let them know that their work is respected by providing an area appropriate to fit their needs.Practical life works take a lot of patience, mostly from the adult. You have to allow your child to spill water, or struggle with their new responsibilities, considering their struggles are age-appropriate. They need to learn that there are natural consequences to their actions. If they drop the pitcher of water, it will make the floor wet. Invite the child to clean the floor themselves. Show them where the mop or cloths are. Be patient and show enthusiasm at their effort. Allowing your child to experience these natural consequences to their actions gives them personal responsibility and gives them the ability to learn healthy coping mechanisms.