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Practical Life 201

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Welcome to my first post as part of the 12 Months of Montessori Series!

While the math materials were one of the most interesting aspects of Montessori initially, practical life wasn't far behind.  I adore it for all the proven benefits.  It allows a child to take an active role in his or her environment.  It helps develop the small muscle groups necessary for writing.  It also helps foster confidence and independence.

The list of possible practical life activities is nearly endless.  You can scoop, tweeze, button, sweep, dust, weave, pour, and tie.  In fact, I wrote a post on how to adapt nearly any household activity for your children.  But when all the basics have been mastered, what comes next?  Is there still more to be gained from practical life?

The answer is a resounding yes!

In a traditional Montessori scope and sequence, basic skills such as pouring water or using a scrub brush are combined into more lengthy and complicated works.  One of the most notable is washing a table.  While it may seem like a simple task, traditional presentations often contain upwards of 25 steps.  On the surface, that may seem overly meticulous.  However, Maria Montessori had a brilliant, scientific mind and observed the benefits of introducing works which required greater thought and attention to detail.

She discovered that a child's ability to focus on the task at hand increased as the work demanded it.  In other words, it encouraged the ability to concentrate.  Montessori also discovered that children felt a deeper connection with such work as it had a direct correlation to a need in the environment.  And of course, the ability to sequence through tasks is critical for a child's development.  The same thorough process that a child uses to sequence steps will one day be used to understand the intricacies of a story or complete more complicated math problems.

This early activity is a foundation for so much more.

So how do you demonstrate a task like table washing to your child?
  • Begin by reading through the presentation.  Here are two examples from The AMI Primary Guide and Montessori Commons.
  • Gather the appropriate supplies and practice the presentation on your own.  Even as an adult, it can be challenging to wade through that may steps initially.  Ensure you are comfortable demonstrating it without reading as you go.  That will be a distraction for your child.
  • If you come across any steps that your child is unfamiliar with, practice those skills until mastered first.  You want to set up a scenario where you child can be successful and avoid unnecessary frustration.
  • Invite your child to a new and exciting presentation.
  • Complete the demonstration slowly and with emphasis on the steps.  As with most practical life presentations, try not to speak as you demonstrate.  Refraining from explanations is so hard, but it will draw your child's attention to your words and away from your hands.
  • Allow your child to attempt the sequence while resisting the urge to correct.  It will take time to learn the correct order of steps.
  • Repeat the demonstration as needed in the future until your child discovers the correct sequence.
  • Marvel at what your child is capable of!!!

While table washing is an excellent activity, there are a number of standard options, such as polishing wood or arranging flowers.  You can even use the same pattern to create other multi-step works that are relevant to your home.  For example, we have a tradition of picking pumpkins from a local pumpkin patch each year.  My children love washing the dirt off.  Instead of letting them simply play with the soap and water, I created a specific set of steps to follow for a clean pumpkin.  It is an activity that interests them and solves a real need, all the while providing a concrete sequence of steps.

If you and your child enjoy practical life as much as we do, I encourage you to consider adding a few multi-step activities to your repertoire.


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This post is part of the 12 Months of Montessori Series.  I am truly honored to be part of this endeavor.  I want to encourage you to visit all the participating blogs to learn more about Practical Life.

Amazing blogs involved in the 12 Months of Montessori Learning

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