Have you ever wondered why your child is fascinated with how you fold the towels, set the table, or mop the floor? Children, like all human beings, want to communicate with others, to do important work, and contribute to society.
This desire is particularly strong in young children as they develop the mental and physical skills to stand, walk, use their hands, and participate in real work.
To capture this interest, and direct it purposefully, Doctor Maria Montessori developed Practical Life exercises. These activities help children to understand, and participate in their world, while also assisting them in developing the inner building blocks of their person during the critical first six years of life.
What is Practical Life?
Practical Life activities are purposeful tasks that simulate the activities involved in everyday life. Often called ‘family work,’ typical Practical Life activities include sweeping, dusting, and food preparation.
The child observes these activities within their world and gains knowledge of them through experience using Practical Life materials in the prepared environment of the Montessori classroom. Practical Life activities are culture specific and provide children with the opportunity to develop a sense of being and belonging by participating in the activities of daily life.
What is the Purpose and Aim of Practical Life Exercises
The purpose and aim of Practical Life exercises is to help children develop coordination of movement, gain independence, adapt to their society, and develop the ability to concentrate.
Through the repetition of Practical Life activities, children learn to develop their gross and fine motor skills, problem solve effectively, and establish a strong sense of self by actively contributing to their world.
Five Areas of Practical Life
Within the Montessori Curriculum, activities of Practical Life revolve around five key areas, including: Preliminary Exercises, Care of Self, Care for the Environment, Grace and Courtesy, and Control of Movement.
In the Preliminary Exercises, children learn the basic movements of all societies, such as pouring, folding and carrying.
Care of Self incorporates activities connected with personal care and the maintenance involved in everyday life, such as washing hands, and getting dressed.
Care for the Environment is focused on teaching children how to interact with their environment in a way that exhibits love and respect. Typical activities include: watering a plant, washing a table, and arranging flowers.
Through Grace and Courtesy exercises children learn the skills associated with social interactions. Key activities include greetings, introducing oneself, and how to appropriately interrupt others.
Control of Movement is focused on teaching children to refine and coordinate control of their bodies through activities such as walking on the line and the silence game.
Characteristics of Practical Life Exercises
In order to be effective, it is essential that children are given access to real Practical Life materials that are familiar, breakable and functional whenever possible.
Children increase their self-confidence when they are given the opportunity to use real things, which corresponds with a greater level of respect when caring for the materials.
Practical Life exercises must also be related to the child’s time and culture. This way, children learn how to complete the activities for themselves, and can then apply this knowledge within their home environment.
In the Montessori classroom, Practical Life exercises will be arranged left to right, from easiest to hardest, and are often colour coded to help facilitate a sense of order. This structure is important as children needs to know that every material has a place.
Example Practical Life Activities
• Carrying a Mat
• Sit and Stand from a Chair
• Carrying a Tray
• Turning pages of a Book
• Spooning Grains
• Pouring Grains
Care of the Person
• Washing Hands
• Dressing Frame
• Polishing Shoes
• Preparing a Snack
Care of The Environment
• Dusting a Table
• Arranging Flowers
• Setting a Table
Grace and Courtesy
• Greeting a Person
• Introduction of One’s Self
• Offering Help
Control of Movement
• Walking on the Line
• Silence Game