Practical Life For Preschool Aged Children

May 10, 2017

Ahhhhh…Practical life. The foundation of the Montessori Education. The place where every child wants to hang out and every teacher regrets putting out those water activities. And the beans. Let’s not forget about the rice. Do you have any idea how hard it is to clean up itty bitty grains of rice from the floor. They don’t sweep up easily when scattered about. 😒

The children gravitate to this area of the classroom like it is the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. It is bright, exciting, and offers the opportunities they need to succeed in everyday activities.

These lessons foster the development of the child’s mind, body, and spirit. It is an area that provides the child with the opportunity to develop the necessary skills for becoming an independent little human in their daily chores and activities.

We all know how much easier our hectic lives would be if our little ones acquired those important skills leading them towards independence. The problem is we don’t give them the time to foster their natural desires to do so.  How many times have you caught yourself wishing, even pleading for them to “do this” or “do that” on their own, only to tell them, “just let me do it?”

Well, get this. According to one of my favorite child development resources, The Secret Life of Childhood, “The practical life area is one of four general areas in the prepared environment. Activities here build on the child’s natural interest and help him develop good work habits, concentration, hand/eye coordination, a lengthened attention span, and control of his body.

Practical Life lessons are introduced in the class first, and for good reason.  This is where children will practice and develop the skills needed to accomplish what the adult does everyday. How often does your child ask to help you in the kitchen? I’m sure you have noticed that your child expresses and wishes to imitate these daily tasks.

It is the Teacher’s role to provide the materials needed to meet the needs and prepare the environment on a daily basis. She is also the dynamic link between the child and the environment.

The adult must observe the child to see if they have acquired the power of concentration which will normally occur in the practical life area. It is up to the teacher to introduce the materials and give a presentation on how to use them properly. Once the child becomes engrossed in the work, the teacher should move on allowing them to complete the task. She must only interrupt when necessary, such as if the child is being destructive, dangerous, or disruptive.

The areas of the Practical Life Curriculum are lessons of Grace and Courtesy, large and small muscle development, care of the environment, and care of person. These are the introductory lessons to the Montessori classroom where the child will develop respect for themselves, others, and their surroundings. These also teach obedience and self confidence.

Some lessons address the social needs of the child. Others prepare the child for reading, writing, and proper hygiene.

Below are a few examples of what we do in our classroom to reinforce these needs:

  • Pushing in the chair. This contributes to respect for others and the class.
  • Greeting a guest. This is typically done during circle time on the first day of school and practiced on and off throughout the year. Each child takes a turn introducing themselves to one another and shakes their hand. This lesson demonstrates positive and respectful social interactions.
  • Dressing Frames. They include buttons, snaps, zippers, buckles, laces, and bow ties.
  • Handwashing. Demonstrating that all important proper hygiene. Especially during cold and flu season.
  • Tongs and Spooning. Excellent for hand/eye coordination and small muscle development. Pincer grip leads to the proper way of holding a pencil which then leads to proper handwriting.
  • To develop the large muscles they can sweep, wash dishes, and clean the table.

As stated in The Secret Childhood, “Movement is an important aspect in the lessons of Practical Life. It is something that precedes, accompanies, and follows all bodily activities.”  You cannot express an idea or thought without muscle movements. It is important not to restrict movement.

“Through movement he acts upon his external environment and thus carries out his own personal mission in the world. Movement is not only an impression of the ego but it is an indispensable factor in the development of consciousness. It is the only real means which places the ego in a clearly defined relationship with external reality.”

So, it is clear to see that young children develop their own minds and intelligence through movement.
Hence, Practical Life. The greatest area in the Montessori classroom…according to the children. 😃
Even something that feels like “play time” serves a developmental purpose.

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