The Practical Life area is a cornerstone that not only defines a Montessori classroom, it fulfills the child’s inner plea of “Help me to do it myself!”
The term “practical” is usually defined as the actual doing or use of something. Whenever I am asked to describe the Practical Life section of the classroom, I simply say: “Practical life is the place where children can freely practice ‘the actual doing of life.’ ” In some ways, this section of the classroom is almost like a mini museum that exhibits the many aspects of real life to a child.
Dr. Maria Montessori’s keen observations of children led to a discovery of this profound philosophy: That education must be an aid to life. And if education is an aid to life, then the curriculum should also satisfy the developmental needs of children.
Practical Life exercises are essential because they solve a developmental need of the child: Promoting functional independence from a young age. This area of the classroom adapts to the actual life of a child by simulating a comforting home environment that bridges the child from the house to the classroom. They feature engaging activities that help children learn to be independent and care for both themselves and their environment.
Children discover how to use a mop or a broom to clean the floors of the classroom they live in. They acquire the art of setting up for snack or lunch, plating their meals on actual, child-sized, breakable tableware and drinking water from a glass cup. They take pride and interest in learning how to dress themselves as they become experts of the button and zipper frames.
Practical Life is not only fun to a child, it is also useful from a physical development perspective — refining both gross and fine motor skills through movements that are vital for any growing child. Each activity enhances physical coordination and promotes muscle development.
In our Children’s House classrooms, Practical Life exercises enable our children to interact with real-world objects. They learn to master the use of spoons, tongs, juicers, mops, brooms and other objects they will encounter for the rest of their lives. The sense of accomplishment in completing these exercises also boost any child’s confidence tremendously as they slowly realize, “I did it all by myself! I can actually do it!”
So, if real life can be practiced in the classroom, can Practical Life also be practiced at home? Most definitely. With a little bit of time, patience, and appropriate child-friendly tools, there are many ways your little one can play a role around the home during this holiday season:
With family over and lots of preparation to be done around the house, you can likely use some help in the kitchen. In our classrooms, children prepare their own snack by slicing apples, pears and bananas or pouring milk from the carton into a jug.
At home, children can help set the dinner table or load and unload the dishwasher. Many non-cooking food preparation activities at home can also involve children. For example, picking grapes from stems, stemming and cutting strawberries, cutting vegetables like carrots, celery and cucumber, juicing oranges, spreading peanut butter on crackers or peeling hardboiled eggs.
If you have a spill that needs to be mopped up or a floor mess that can be swept, you can teach your preschooler how to handle a child-sized mop or broom and let the cleaning begin! A simple spray bottle of water and a piece of cloth can also turn into a cleaning tool with endless possibilities for a young child — imagine clean tables, cabinets, windows, shelves, floors and more!
There are numerous ways to involve your child in everyday jobs around the house, especially during the holidays. Toys around the home can be tidied up by encouraging your child to pick the objects up and putting them away. Or you can always use an extra pair of hands to set the festive decorations around the house!