There's no denying the importance of practical life activities. This area, unique to Montessori, teaches children coordination and fine motor skills through activities designed to care for the classroom environment and for themselves. While tasks such as washing dishes, preparing food and sweeping floors are important skills to develop and foster greater independence for the child, they also help develop the muscles needed for writing and cognition. If you have spent any time searching the Internet for examples of Montessori activities, chances are a lot of what you found fell into this category.
But if practical life is so essential, why have I chosen to keep this area of my classroom so minimal?
Maria Montessori saw practical life as a way to help children establish their place in society. She found that children were most interested in those activities that replicated what they had witnessed as a part of life. Her approach to practical life was just that - practical. Children learned how to wash their hands, dress themselves, polish shoes, set a table, prepare and serve food, dust the shelves, sweep the floors, wash the tables and care for plants and animals. All of these activities were relevant to the children's daily life in Italy during the early 1900s.
As I read about the history of Montessori and the purpose of practical life, I began to ask myself a few questions. Are the practical life activities I'm presenting relevant to the time and place my children live? Am I teaching them skills that will help them integrate into society?
While we're the type of Montessori family who has a dedicated classroom with traditional materials, I found that practical life belonged where life happened... everywhere. It also revolutionized what I thought of as practical life. While we work on sweeping with a broom, my children also have a child-sized vacuum (mini shop vac). They help prepare aspects of dinner and serve themselves food and drink, even as young toddlers. We practice dressing ourselves daily, and my oldest is learning to put a ponytail in her hair. A wide range of adult activities can be adapted at a young age... unloading the dishwasher, sorting laundry, folding washrags, chopping vegetables, flipping pancakes, wiping up spills, sewing, raking, tending to the garden, wiping baseboards, scrubbing pots and washing windows. That is practical life.
Granted, I still keep a few items on the shelves in the classroom. My younger ones find themselves drawn to a work here or there. However, my practical life shelves simply don't have the appeal that getting to do the "real deal" does. My favorite aspect of classroom based practical life is when everyone pitches in to clean when we're finished.
I'm certainly not saying you're wrong if your activities are far less "practical" by definition. We've done our fair share of tweezing colored pom-poms. But if you've found yourself scrambling to keep your child interested, this could be a big piece of the puzzle. Either way, I hope you will begin to see a wider world of possibilities for practical life.
Stay tuned as I share the two simple keys to making your home practical life friendly.
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