At the end of January, I had the pleasure of attending a two-day refresher workshop emphasizing the importance of Practical Life work in the Montessori classroom. I was reminded of the many benefits this area provides to the child and how it helps create a respectful classroom community. Practical Life exercises when completed with engagement have a calming effect for the child as they bring about a sense of peacefulness and a state of grace. Practical Life exercises reveal how caring, careful, and independent work requiring movement leads to higher self-esteem and increased concern for others. In addition, Practical Life work is a preparation for later academics along with the development of the will and strong work habits. Practical Life exercises are a preparation to developing life skills.
All children are born with an innate drive to adapt and understand their new environment. When children first enter the Montessori classroom at age 2.5 or 3, Practical Life exercises provide a smooth transition to the Montessori classroom by linking the activities that the child is familiar with at home to the school environment. Examples include sweeping, pouring water and dusting. A sense of beauty is also found in the Practical Life area. Observing a child arrange flowers or polish metal using child size materials is very calming. Beauty calls out to the soul of the child igniting a sense of care and appreciation. The attractiveness of an object is attributed to its shape, shine, design and cleanliness. Practical Life work should not be limited to younger children (ages 3 to 4). Children of all ages in the Montessori classroom should practice Practical Life lessons as they are developing their movement skills and creating meaningful work for themselves.
Individuals that are unfamiliar with the Montessori philosophy may perceive Practical Life exercises to be a waste of time. One may say, ‘Why is my child washing a table, I want them to focus on academics like Language?’ Practical life activities are an extremely important area of the Montessori classroom. These exercises set the foundation for more complex lessons. For example, as a child is washing a table they are indirectly learning a sequential order of steps, which prepares the child for language and math lessons to come. Math, reading and language lessons require the child to have the ability to focus, complete a task following a sequence of steps, to concentrate and complete a work cycle from start to finish.
When a child engages and repeats Practical Life work many life skills are acquired. These skills include developing fine motor skills, strengthening the will, developing independence and concentration. These are the purposes of Practical Life activities. As the child works with the Practical Life materials, a sense of order and increased independence is attained as well. Activities such as washing cloths, lemon squeezing or cutting vegetables strengthen the child’s hand.
When children are engaged with Practical Life lessons, they learn to calmly go about their work and to take pleasure and satisfaction from their efforts. When offered freedom of movement in a beautiful and orderly environment they learn that their contributions are valuable to themselves and the larger community (ex. Care of Plants). The child feels a sense of pride in their work and a sense of peace is attained. Dr. Montessori believed that emphasize should not be placed on the word ‘Practical’ but on the word ‘Life.’ Montessori Practical Life exercises need to be taken seriously as they assist the child in his total development (physical and mental) as preparation for life therefore Practical Life should be taken VERY seriously.