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Practical Life for an Older Child

Practical Life is often considered one of the most critical areas of a Montessori primary education.  However, it can seemingly get lost in the shuffle as a child moves into the second plane of development at age six.  In reality, the focus simply shifts.  While Practical Life is for the child during Primary, it is for the community during the elementary years and beyond.

The goal of Practical Life is always the same.  It teaches the child independence and care of self.  During the primary years, small, individual tasks are undertaken.  As the child advances, longer sequences are introduced.  But overall, Practical Life is an area that the child attends to at will.  Work is meaningful mainly in how it develops the child.  Children are invited to work but may not follow through well.  There are no expectations that the child will complete significant tasks with regularity.  From a Montessori perspective, a primary child is a helper around the home while an elementary child is an independent contributor.

A child who has progressed through a standard Montessori scope and sequence in Practical Life for Primary will have mastered the basic skills and sequencing exercises required to tackle complex tasks.  Most children transition to the second plane around age six.  Once the child has shown solid evidence of moving from the absorbent mind to the reasoning mind, you can begin introducing new tasks.

I currently have two children who have made the transition.  While I had a head knowledge of what that would hold, I was surprised at how eager my children were to add new responsibilities and how quickly they could master them.  Unlike Primary, the scope and sequence for Practical Life at the elementary level is far less defined.  However, it can be approached in any number of ways.  I prefer to go back to the purpose of practical life and ask myself what skills my child needs to be independent and contribute to the community.  Keep in mind that community can be defined as simple as the household where the child lives.  These tasks can vary and should be individualized based on the nature of the family.  While there are basic skills around hygiene, dressing, cleanliness, and meals, a family that lives on a farm, runs a home business, sews their clothing, or performs home auto maintenance is going to have different needs.

We started with dishes and meal prep.  While my children have always assisted in this area, I asked them to take a larger role - completing these tasks solo.  Loading and unloading the dishwasher (or dish washing), preparing a simple meal, and baking simple recipes are all good starting points.

Laundry was the next area I introduced.  My children could fold towels early on, but the next step was for them to begin running their laundry solo.  I still tell them when to run it at this point, but as they get older, I will expect them to set a specific day and manage that need accordingly.

The next task came up unexpectedly.  Having two boys, the bathroom wasn't always in the best shape.  And unfortunately, it seems as if the guest bathroom took the most abuse.  To my surprise, my six year old was thrilled about the idea of learning to clean it top to bottom.  Not only is that bathroom now much cleaner, but having to do the detail work quickly changed his poor bathroom habits.

There are many other areas I intend to tackle that are too numerous to list.  In fact, my husband I keep a running list of tasks we want our children to know before they leave home.  This can encompass any relevant area from first aid, personal finance management, workforce behavior, home/auto maintenance, and technology usage. 

If you'd like to get started with older child, here are a few tips and tricks:

Introduce a new activity with enthusiasm and at a point where you child is attentive and interested.  You may be surprised at how excited your child is to try something new, even if it's something that has become mundane to you.

Go through the sequence of activities slowly.  Keep in mind that your child may not grasp them all the first time.  I find that sometimes steps get dropped as time goes by.  When I notice that, I give a refresher and work alongside them.  You can also create simple checklists for longer and more complex activities.

Don't expect perfect attention to detail.  Sometimes there may be greater focus on one step of the sequence and seemingly none on another.  There have been occasions when I could check the bathroom off the list.  There were other times that I had to touch up spots.  At our age and stage in lower elementary, I'm happy with a reasonable attempt - not that I won't ask for a redo if I'm certain the task was purposely ignored.

An older child should begin to approach things with adult tools, such as washing dishes in the sink versus a child-sized dish-washing table.  Granted, there are still times you will need to make accommodations.  I think there are more step stools in my house than ever before.

When it comes to care of self needs, it's best to allow the pride of accomplishing the task to be the reward.  That isn't to say that additional tasks above and beyond can't be compensated in some way since managing money is another critical practical life skill.

Advanced crafts such as sewing projects and braided bracelets are also a useful aspect for continuing to develope motor skills and coordination.  At this age and stage, they can become meaningful gifts for friends and family.

Don't forget Grace and Courtesy lessons.  These are such a beautiful aspect of Practical Life and will be necessary until adulthood.  For an older child, these shift to needs such as how to pay for an item in a store or how to be a good audience member.

While the elementary years can be a deeply academic phase, I hope this inspires you to bring more Practical Life options to the mix as well.

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This post is part of the 12 Months of Montessori series.  I am honored to take part in it.  Please visit the links below.  There are fantastic ideas on Practical Life!

Raising Independent Kids - Practical Life Skills (Printables) | Natural Beach Living

Montessori Practical Life Ideas - Dressing Frames & Folding {Printables} | The Natural Homeschool

Favorite Montessori Practical Life Activities for Toddlers and Preschoolers | Living Montessori Now

Practical Life Skills - Recycling for Kids | Mama’s Happy Hive

Montessori Practical Life Checklist | Sugar, Glitter & Spice

Montessori-inspired Shark Themed Practical Life Activities | Every Star is Different

Practical Life for an Older Child | Grace and Green Pastures

10 Ways to Encourage Family Chores this Summer | Christian Montessori Network

Practical Life at 2-Years-Old | The Kavanaugh Report

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