Practical life means basic every day life, all the things we need to do for daily living. Dr. Maria Montessori felt that children need to be shown and given opportunities so that they learn how to do every day living activities in a purposeful way.
“The child can only develop by means of experience in his environment. We call such experience work.” – Maria Montessori.
In a Montessori class room you may find an area where on a low shelf there are activities that involve pouring, spooning, sorting, stringing etc. There might be child size brooms, tiny jugs to pour liquid, and frames that invite the child to button, zip or do lacing activities.
You may find a circle taped on the floor where a child is walking with heel-toe motion, balancing her arms stretched out, carefully keeping her feet on the line. Or, there may be times when a group of children are practicing to be silent and be aware of the softest sound in their environment.
Why do we need Practical Life Exercises for young children:
What is the rationale for having such weird things instead of a dressing corner and make believe stage in the class room?
According to Dr. Montessori, during the sensitive period between births to 6 years of age, the child is constructing his inner self. He is preparing himself for the big world, using his motor skills and problem solving abilities.
Montessori saw the child’s need for order and repetition of the same activity to refine certain skills. The child needs to move to gain balance, grace and confidence. He also needs to develop the power to be silent.
We, adults need to show that to the child –
“If talking don’t move, if moving don’t talk” suggests Montessori to the teacher.
Four Main Areas of Practical Life Exercises:
Preliminary applications: –
Here the child learns how to pour, fold, carry things, like a chair or tray safely, use spoons, forks or knives and so on.
Here the child learns how to take care of him self and his environment.
Care of self may include exercises on how to wash the hands, use the bathroom, brush teeth, wear different kind of clothes, snap buttons, lace shoes etc.
Care of the environment may include exercises on organizing the clutter, sorting and putting things in the right places, dusting shelves, sweeping the floor, mopping if there is a spill, raking the out door area, taking care of the plants, trees, animals etc.
Grace and Courtesy:
Child learns how to use the words “excuse me” when he needs to interrupt or ask for help. The child learns how to give thanks and show his gratitude; how to greet some one and introduce her to others etc.
Control of movement:
Walking on the line may be an exercise that he may do whenever he feels like, to practice his balance and coordination. He may even carry a bell and challenge himself not to make any sound as his practices.
Children also practice silence game in a group or just alone.
Montessori linked it with the sensitive period of the child when preschool age children are highly ready to learn these skills.
She cautioned the teacher (parent or care taker) that our job as teachers is to show the young children how to do these things. Give them an orderly, child friendly environment where they are invited to practice these skills. It is important to remember that at this age children love small things, they have high appreciation for beauty. Their aesthetic sense is developing. They want to know the properties of different materials- for example, wood is different from cloth, glass is different from plastic and clay.
Our job is to teach them and give them the opportunities, not to correct them. When a child cleans an environment, sweeps or mops the floor, not necessarily he is doing that to clean the floor, he is actually developing his own skills, refining them and preparing himself for the big world.
Montessori, M (1967). The absorbent mind. New York: Holt,Rinehart and Winston
Montessori, M (1963). What you should know about your child. Wheaton,III.Theosophical Press