Updated: May 8
I have sometimes heard parents remark that their 3 year old only seems to do "chores", and don't seem to be learning anything during their first year in Casa (a 3 - 6 Classroom). They are somewhat right, but also waaay off base!
Practical Life is a huge part of the Montessori Method, especially for this age group! The child wants to become more independent, and practical life is a vital part of that.
"These very children reveal to us the most vital need of their development, saying : 'Help me to do it alone!'" (Maria Montessori, From Childhood to Adolescence, p. 67)
Generally, Practical Life can be divided in to three (or four*) groups:
1. Care of self
Examples: Brushing hair, washing hands, brushing teeth, put on sunblock, get dressed and undressed, using a toilet independently, wiping the nose.
2. Care of the environment
Examples: Watering plants, cleaning a table, mopping, vacuuming, feeding pets, emptying (parts of) the dishwasher, simple cooking, flower arranging.
3. Grace and courtesy
Will vary depending on culture and norms. We do not force the child, but inspire them, though the adults modelling the behaviour we wish to see.
Examples: How to use polite language (please and thank you), how to gain someones attentions when that person is engaged speaking to someone else, taking turns, how to hold a door for someone or how to resolve an argument/social problem, how to shake hands to greet someone formally.
*4. Controlled movement
This group is not always mentioned under practical life. It's about learning to control your movement.
Examples: How roll out a matt, close a door, move a chair and your body without disturbing others or making too much noise. You can make a circle on the floor with tape and have the child practice walking it fast, slowly, with light feet, as quietly a mouse etc.
In a 3 - 6 classroom, there is always a Practical Life shelf with lots of activities for the children to choose from; dressing frames, polishing, sewing, pouring, scooping etc. They are all build on real life activities children will see in their own homes. When doing Montessori at home, it is often more useful to keep the child sized practical life items in the same place the adult versions are. Pouring and scooping is often done while cooking family meals and many other practical life activities are just done alongside as the parent does them. It's important that the child knows where everything is, and is allowed to practice when they want.
When showing a child how to do an activity, we use the S.H.O.W. method. Slow Hands - Omit Words. If you speak while modelling, it may distract and the child may not know what to focus on. In Montessori, we show, not tell. In other words, let the materials or actions speak for themselves.
So you can begin to see the value of Practical Life. In order for children to excel in learning in more commonly appreciated subjects such as maths and language, they must first learn to concentrate. Such concrete activities develop these fundamental skills. Practical Life not only fosters concentration, it also develops independence, coordination, self worth for ones own abilities, self-initiative, a love for order, self-discipline and so much more. Practical life has depth beyond what parents first see and it's impact far wider than first imagined. It's work with real purpose and value.
Co-authored and edited by Mie Mari Sløk Rusdal and Jude Saffron
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