The Montessori Series – Practical Life

By Hayley Swinamer

The Practical Life area of the Montessori classroom is exactly what it sounds like! Children learn the practical skills they need for daily life. These activities can be divided into groups – Care of Self, Care of the Environment, Grace and Courtesy and Fine Motor Development.

Care of Self includes activities such as the Dressing Frames of zippers, buttons, snaps, hooks, buckles, lacing and so on. These activities not only help the child master certain fine motor skills, but create the confidence that comes with these important steps toward independence, when they translate to dressing themselves for outdoor recess, hanging their things when they arrive at school and so on.

Care of the Environment involves activities such as sweeping the floor, cleaning the tables, cleaning a spill wet or dry, watering plants, caring for the class pet, and so on. It is also reinforced in one of the main principles of a Montessori classroom, to put activities back where they were, as they were, so the next classmate will be able to find and use them too. These are valuable skills in themselves, but perhaps more importantly, for these generations that will face the serious consequences of past generation’s reckless disregard for the environment, Care of the Environment activities build the sense of personal responsibility for one’s surroundings – and the consequences of not caring for them. If a child has not cleaned up their snack spot, their journal will get dirty when they lay it down to write. If a child has spilled their water bottle and not wiped up, they or a classmate may slip and fall.

Grace and Courtesy includes the basics of please, thank you and you’re welcome naturally, but it extends far beyond these simple manners. It is character education that is ongoing at every opportunity, multiple times every day. It is impossible to list all the ways and topics here, but here are a few common examples. Children are taught proper greetings. You may be surprised how many children enter a classroom in the morning head down, or distracted, and do not even reply to the teacher’s greetings. Conversely, some children come into a quiet classroom, let all their belongings crash to the floor, blocking the door, and start loudly greeting all their friends who are already involved in lessons. They are taught how to interrupt a teacher or classmate who is already in conversation, by a gentle hand on the shoulder (as opposed to yelling across a classroom, banging on a leg, or stepping in between and blocking the people speaking, which are all common behaviours of children at this age) and to wait to be acknowledged by the teacher or classmate before speaking. When to close doors and how to close them without slamming, how to wait for their turn to speak in group lessons and circle times, and even how to begin to have true conversations, instead of what may often be heard in this age group –
Jenny “I had swimming lessons last night. The water was cold.”
Tommy “I like trucks!”

There is only one of each type of activity on a practical life shelf. This teaches both sharing and patience, two very necessary skills to be learned at this age.

Fine motor skills are developed throughout Care of Self and Care of Environment activities, as well as specific lessons for this purpose. Sorting, Sponging, Pouring (dry and wet) Spoons, Tonging, Tweezing, Clothespins, Chopsticks, Turkey Basters, Sewing, and a whole host of other activities help hand eye coordination, and the develop the muscles in the hand. At the heart of all practical life activities is the development of the child’s capacity for order and concentration. This is the important base that helps them develop the focus and attention span, as well as the ability to follow the steps of a process needed to move on to more complex academic lessons.

Next time in the Montessori Method series – the Sensorial shelf.