Just as the kitchen may be the centre of family life in your home, Practical Life is the soul of the Montessori Curriculum. A child’s first experiences in a Montessori environment are those in the area of Practical Life.
These are the first exercises that the child sees that are familiar to their past experiences in the home. The Practical Life experiences centre on the three fundamental needs to care for oneself, to care for the natural and built environment, and to care for other people. The area of Practical Life should be prominent in a Montessori environment and entice the children to return to these exercises that meet the needs of the sensitive periods for movement, order, and language.
What activities could you provide for your child in the home, that will allow them to contribute to the care of themselves, look after the house, or do something nice for a family member without being asked?
When there are activities aplenty in the area of practical life, there is no need for arbitrary rules for behavior in a classroom. This is possible because children are engaged in work that is contributing to the development of themselves and those around them, while contributing to the care of the physical and natural world as well.
Here’s the challenge for us as adults, to make these activities accessible to our children… We need to set up activities that are practically impractical!
Rather than having children use our tools, we need to have equipment that is the appropriate height, weight and that function well for small bodies. We need to demonstrate first for our children in a way that is not efficient or ‘the best and fastest’ way to get something done. We need to slow down and break down an activity into small manageable parts, so that a child may see each step clearly and be able to replicate it successfully. We should provide children with real tools, not plastic or mock tools that don’t serve a real purpose.
Children may happily pretend to use a plastic shovel for a short amount of time, but give them a real shovel and a real mound of dirt and they will do so for hours and have picked up a skill along the way.
The activities in practical life mirror activities carried out by adults in their direct cultural communities, but are reproduced in such a way to provide a multitude of benefits to the child: functional independence, concentration, self-confidence, development of sequential thought, social relationships, development of ordered work cycle, self-discipline, integration of personality and character, develop choice making skills, harmony of mind/muscles/will power, attachment to reality, encourages inclusivity among peer groups, development of coordination of movement.
With these outcomes available to the child, why not set up a few activities in your home today? Whether it’s preparing food, practicing with utensils, having cleaning up tools on hand for your child to care for the home. Perhaps craft activities available on a tray with all the materials needed for the child to work independently without the need for you to set it up or clean it up for them. Stay tuned to I AM Montessori to learn many more ways you can make Practical Life more practical in your home.
- Rebecca Grugan