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The Importance of Practical Life Activities in the Montessori Preschool Classroom

If teaching is to be effective with young children, it must assist them to advance on the way to independence. It must initiate them into those kinds of activities, which they can perform themselves. We must help them to learn how to walk without assistance, to run, to go up and down the stairs, to pick up fallen objects, to dress and undress, to wash themselves, to express their needs, and to attempt to satisfy their desires through their own efforts. All this is part of an education for independence." - Maria Montessori, The Discovery of the Child

Psychologists have argued that childhood is a natural phase of growing up. Maria Montessori believed that children are innately preparing to be adults. She further stated that parents and teachers needed to provide a strong foundation of skills and work habits that would eventually allow them to be responsible for the caring of their own families, homes, community and environment. These skills, when taught early in life, allow children to believe in themselves as well as developing the self-discipline needed for success throughout their lives.


The Importance of Practical Life Activities in the Montessori Preschool Classroom

Montessori stated that at each plane of development there is a sensitive period for different skills and activities. It is critical that proper stimulation be provided as nature intended. A child enters the Children's House (Montessori preschool) around the age of three. It is here where the Work of the Family, known as Practical Life activities, provides an introduction and smooth transition to the Montessori school by linking the activities that the child is familiar with at home to the school environment.

Children at this age enjoy, and even prefer, spending their time helping adults with their activities. When allowed to do so, the child learns that his contributions are of value, thus boosting his self-esteem and independence. He enjoys and should be encouraged to use child-size replicas of adult tools. In short, the direct aim of Montessori Practical Life activities is to help develop social skills and independence. Indirectly, Practical Life activities develop fine motor skills, as well as strengthening intellect, concentration, and personal will.

The importance of beauty in the Montessori classroom can be keenly observed in the Practical Life area of the classroom. Practical Life activities have a unique purpose which, when carried out properly, are very calming. To the adult eye, these activities may seem simple and repetitive, but a child who is learning to wash a table or fold napkins is accomplishing more than meets the eye. The Montessori teacher realizes that the child is:

  • demonstrating a high level of concentration
  • developing a sense of order (putting all materials back where they belong)
  • taking pride in a job well done
  • increasing independence through care of self and the environment
  • developing respect for his community (using materials appropriately and cleaning up afterwards)
  • improving fine motor coordination

The Four Areas of Practical Life

1 - Preliminary Activities – These activities provide the foundation and set the stage for all works in the Montessori classroom. These include such tasks as how to roll and unroll a mat, how to walk around a mat, how to sharpen a pencil, how to put down a chair, and walking on the line.

2 - Care of Self – These activities provide the means for children to become physically independent. These may include such activities as how to wash hands, how to brush teeth, how to pack a lunch, how to pack an overnight bag, and how to tie shoes.

3 - Care of the Environment – Learning how to clean is very important in the Montessori classroom. These activities may include how to set the table, how to clean dishes and cutlery, how to sweep the floor, how to dust the shelves, how to water the plants, and how to clean up spills.

4 - Social Graces and Courtesies – These activities are not found on the shelves. Rather, the Montessori teacher introduces social graces and courtesies such as how to shake hands, saying please and thank you, how to interrupt someone, and how to cough and sneeze.

Practical Life activities should be taken very seriously. The child works patiently, with reverence. This is her work and it is important that it is respected as such. Where adults usually choose the most efficient and quickest way to do something, a child works to perfect her skills and master the activity. Her purpose is not so much to complete the task as it is to construct herself. The adults in her life should take pleasure in the child's achievements: "Oh, it is nice to have such a clean table." "What a clean and shiny mirror!" "You must have worked very hard on this."

The most important work in the Montessori preschool may be the Practical Life activities. Parents who are unfamiliar with Montessori education may feel that Practical Life activities are a waste of time. "Why is my child learning how to wash dishes when they should be learning how to do something more academic, like math?" Math, reading, and language all require one to have the ability to focus, to be able to complete a task with logical and sequential steps, to concentrate, to make intelligent choices, and to see a task from start to finish. This is precisely the intent of the Practical Life activities. Through the Practical Life work, children learn to calmly go about their work and to take pleasure and satisfaction from their efforts.