With each tray on the Practical Life shelf set up in an ordered way from left to right the child reads the tray and understands how to complete the work, often without being given a formal lesson. This encourages self-directed and independent learning. This type of order, seen throughout the Montessori classroom, sets the child up for success as they choose more complex Practical Life works like polishing or table scrubbing.
A child scrubbing a table is learning so much more than may be obvious. They understand how to organize their work, concentrate and sequence steps in a functional and successful way. For example, the child must walk to the sink, turn on the faucet, fill a pitcher with water, turn off the faucet, carry the full pitcher back to the work space, mindfully pour the water from the pitcher to the basin, twist open the bottle of soap and squeeze the soap from the dropper into the basin. The child remembers the sequence of this work and is able to repeat the work whenever they choose. The child can refer to the steps in conversation (and give a younger student a lesson!) and is able to complete every step independently; all of this sequencing is key to language development and preparation for reading. This type of work also manifests a sense of pride and confidence within the child. As Montessori clearly defines, “After the child has finished his work, he appears satisfied, rested and happy.” (1972, p. 114).
Throughout Practical Life, children are unknowingly developing their control of movement. Children refine their pincer grip (pointer and middle finger together with the thumb) as they choose a verity of works like sorting, tweezing, tonging, basting, spooning and pouring. Developing this fine motor skill is crucial for future academic work. The child is strengthening the muscles in his/ her hand so that he/she can use a writing utensil with exactness and precision. In the above mentioned beginning steps of table scrubbing the child is seeing moving throughout the room gathering all the necessary components to complete the scrubbing. Just within these first few steps, the child develops coordination between the fine and gross motor skills.
Not only are the children caring for the environment, but they are also learning to care for themselves independent of an adult. The environment invites the children to prepare their own snack, pour water from a pitcher into a glass and eat a snack with a friend. The children are free to eat at their own pace and, when finished, wash their dishes and place them in the drying rack.
Practical Life is a major asset in the Montessori environment. It is key in developing a child’s relationship with the world through the use of real tools and activities that foster growth. Each activity climbs the developmental ladder and addresses the needs of each child in the classroom. Through these activities, children develop a sense of order, concentration, coordination and independence and lay the foundation for learning in future years. Refining fine and gross motor skills leads to great accomplishments in language, math and overall intellectual development.
Montessori, M. (1972). The secret of childhood. New York: Random House.
Woods, C.S. (2000, Winter). Back to basics for the Montessorian: The practical life foundation. Montessori Life, 39.