Practical Life in a Montessori Classroom: A Closer Look
There are five curricular areas in the Montessori classroom - Practical Life, Sensorial, Language, Math, and Cultural. Today, let’s explore the Practical Life area, a favorite of children and adults alike.
What is it? Why is it? And more!
The exercises of practical life are formative activities, a work of adaptation to the environment. Such adaptation to the environment and efficient functioning therein is the very essence of a useful education.”
Dr. Maria Montessori
The What of Practical Life
You might be able to guess from the name Practical Life what sorts of activities would be included in this area. Something that is practical is useful. So activities in this curricular area are lessons that focus on movements that are useful to life - basic life skills - that will help the student become independent and functioning in his or her world. Scooping, dusting, walking with control, using a zipper or tying a shoe, hanging clothing on a line. These are just a handful of the useful, practical skills a student will learn through the Practical Life curriculum.
Practical Life lessons are simply to give the students those skills that will help them achieve independence. And to most students and observers this will probably seem like the number one objective.
Case in point.
During Open House events when students have a chance to show their parents the skills they have been practicing, almost all students are excited to show them the Practical Life area. On one occasion, a student desperately wanted to show their parent the Dish Washing Job. This young student spent the better part of the hour, retrieving water for the sink, carefully washing and drying each “dirty” dish and utensil, drying them then dumping the water. The parents enjoyed watching the process at first but started to interrupt and ask about language and math. Because another student also wanted to show that Dish Washing Job, the other student reluctantly moved on to Language, where they chose a reading box and showed their parents that they could sound out three-letter words. The parents were completely amazed and impressed by the reading box. At the end of the Open House, the parents commented privately that their child talks nonstop about the Dish Washing Job and wished that they could have seen what their child is learning in Math or Science because they hope their child will go on to do more that wash dishes in life. I assured them that it just looks like dish washing - and what kid doesn’t love to play in the water?? - but what their child had shown was the ability to follow a complex, step-by-step process, which required a good deal of memorization, to achieve the outcome. That process is what develops a young child’s mind for the complex, problem solving in Math and Science. At that moment, their faces brightened and they realized that their child could not only wash dishes (bonus for help around the house!) but they were also building strong concentration, mental organization and controlled processes for their work in academics. This is the beauty and essence of the Practical Life curriculum!
Walking around the Practical Life area of most Montessori classrooms will probably seem like a miniature version of home, with small vases, glasses, plates, dressing items, cleaning and eating utensils, garden pots and plants, tools, etc. These items will be carefully arranged on trays that a young child can carry successfully and they will also be made of everyday, natural materials that tell the student that they are trusted to use them because they are in control of their movements and able to show care in their work. That implicit lesson builds their confidence while the Control of Movement lessons help them build the skills to be certain.
Any child who is self-sufficient, who can tie his shoes, dress or undress himself, reflects in his joy and sense of achievement the image of human dignity, which is derived from a sense of independence.”
Dr. Maria Montessori
The Why of Practical Life
In addition to the obvious life skills and independence that a student gains in the Practical Life area, Montessori also designed this curricular area to build other, less apparent abilities - order, concentration, coordination, and independence.
To achieve these goals, a student will practice lessons from a few different topics within the Practical Life area: Preliminary Applications, Applied Applications, Grace and Courtesy, and Control of Movement.
Preliminary Exercises include functional abilities common in most societies, things like folding clothing or pouring a drink or walking while carrying something.
With Applied Practical Life skills, a student focuses more on daily routines - how to care for himself and how to care for his environment.
Grace and Courtesy exercises revolve around interpersonal skills, such as shaking hands, giving a greeting and looking at the other person while they are speaking or when talking to them.
In the final group of lessons, Control of Movement, a student gets the opportunity to slow down and teach himself how to control his gross motor and fine motor movements. The outcome of these exercises aims at precision and economy of movement - not having to make unnecessary actions.
The hands are the instruments of man’s intelligence.”
Dr. Maria Montessori
For these reasons, the Practical Life area of a Montessori classroom, is the foundation and starting point for all the rest. It provides a place for each student to refine themselves, develop their ability to focus and concentrate, and to become independent so that as they learn, they will be best equipped to receive and keep the new information and continue on their path of learning.
Take a peek at Must Be Montessori’s article “Help Me Do It Myself” for ways that you can incorporate Practical Life lessons in your home.
And for weekly activities, subscribe to the Montessori at Home Weekly Curriculum - Primary or the Weekly Curriculum for Toddlers- full of engaging, Montessori-inspired lessons that will get you and your students hands-on with learning!
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