Children are naturally interested in activities that they see done in the world around them. They love to copy grown-ups and are always eager to “help”. They are also eager to learn to do things on their own. Practical Life materials offer children the opportunity to develop concentration, coordination and independence while practicing real-life skills.
When you step into the Practical Life area in your child’s classroom, you will see shelves of materials carefully laid out on trays and baskets that your child will be able to independently carry to the table in order to complete. You may see a tray with a child-sized pitcher and small cups that your child will use to practice pouring. You may see a child-sized tongs and small containers of pom-poms for your child to practice sorting. You may see a tray with a hand-held broom and dustpan next to a container of beans for your child to practice sweeping. Each of the materials in the Practical Life area provide your child with an opportunity to practice skills that are foundational to future learning experiences.
In order to provide these learning opportunities, Practical Life materials have some important characteristics that should be kept in mind.
Practical Life materials should be familiar, real and functional. Even if they are child-sized so that they are easier to handle, these materials should look like the materials children see being used around them by the adults in their lives. Using real water that can be spilled and even real dishes that may be broken will help a child understand how to handle them with care. (Safety is important, so children should only use breakable materials under the close supervision of an adult.)
Practical Life materials should be self-contained on a tray or in a basket with all of the tools a child will need to complete the activity. They should also be placed in groupings such as food prep, self-care, etc. in order to help the child gain a sense of order in the environment.
When Practical Life materials are demonstrated for the child, they should be done from top to bottom and from left to right. As children work through the Practical Life materials and grow naturally accustomed to this order of movement, they are preparing themselves for future work in Language Arts and Mathematics.
Practical Life is the Montessori learning area that lays the foundation for all other activities in the Montessori classroom. Materials in the Practical Life area provide even the youngest children the opportunity to practice activities of everyday life while helping them to learn concentration, coordination and independence that they can build on in the years to come.
“The exercises of practical life are formative activities, a work of adaptation to the environment. Such adaptation to the environment and efficient functioning therein is the very essence of a useful education.” – Maria Montessori