Children are great reminders of focusing on the daily activities that make our life feasible. As I am sure you have noticed, your children are joyfully engaged in the most straightforward of tasks that most of us adults do not look forward to. There is beauty in washing a table, and slicing bananas--it is an art, especially for the Montessori Child.
The true heart of Montessori education lies in Practical Life. For children, it is a world of possibilities where they are eager to do the jobs that they see their beloved adults doing. Practical Life can also be referred to as work that supports the child to “help me do it myself..” and is divided into tasks that inspire them to care for themselves, and eventually care for their environment.
Practical Life activities include a spectrum of benefits:
- It is purposeful in its outcome. Whether it is to ensure the plants stay healthy or the tables be clean, the goal is clear to the child.
- They incorporate large and fine motor skill development and refinement. This includes learning to balance, using two hands at the same time, walking slowly, moving fingers precisely, and building muscle control and strength in various parts of the body.
- It builds concentration. During Practical Life, your child is focused on several points of interests that grips their attention for longer periods of time.
- It guides the child to follow a series of steps. Sequencing is an integral part of the young child’s sense of order and executive functioning. They are engaging in several steps in a certain order to achieve the outcome of the activity. Sequencing is also an excellent means of pre-preparation for mathematics in the near future.
- It develops independence. These activities have a built-in error of control that does not require support or interference from the adult. For instance, it is understood that water and soap go together, or if there is a mess, it should be cleaned up.
- It facilitates a sense of ownership. By choosing to do Practical Life, children begin to have the perception of responsibility that their actions can influence their environment and the living things in it.
Keeping this in mind, the best way to establish a connection between a child’s environment in school and at home is through Practical Life. In addition to hand-washing, here are a few ways to bring the magic of Practical Life into your home:
- Food preparation. Create a space that is catered to their height with child appropriate and safe cutting boards, peelers, cutters, colanders and bowls as needed. Offer them a clementine for a snack, which they can peel and enjoy on their own. They can help you with dinner by rinsing produce and herbs. They can choose toppings for their yogurt and oatmeal, such as peeling and slicing a banana, rinsing and adding blueberries, or using a spoon to add a drizzle of honey. The advantages of this work are multi-dimensional-- it offers a sensorial exploration of food while it also encourages them to eat a variety of foods since they are more involved in the preparation.
- Table setting. Invite your child to set the table for the family or themselves. Create a space safely accessible to your child with placemats, napkins, utensils, plates and cups. Pro-tip- a place mat with the outline of a plate, cup, fork, and spoon will independently guide them through the process.
- Mopping, sweeping, crumb sweeping, and dusting. Design an area where child size mops, push brooms, a crumb sweeper, and dustpan and brush are hung up with hooks at their height. This will invite your child to use each material as needed when they are cleaning up after themselves.
- Dishwashing. When your child is done enjoying their meals, offer them a stool that gives them the ability to wash their own dishes. Add a soap pump or bar, a scrub brush, a drying rack and cloth to complete the work with safe access to water.
- Shoe washing and scrubbing. Water is a universal love language for young children. If you have an outdoor space even better, offer buckets, with soap and brushes, and let them get to work by removing the dirt of their shoes.
- Picking and arranging flowers. On your walks in the neighborhood or in your garden, carry a basket with you to encourage your children to pick a variety of flowers they encounter. With the use of a small pitcher, some size appropriate vases, and the flowers picked, let your child create flower arrangements to beautify the home.
- Table wiping and washing. All they need is water, a sponge, a bar of soap, a scrubbing brush and a drying cloth to ensure those tables stay shiny and clean. Pro-tip- for any activity that uses water, look for pitchers with handles!
- Dressing and undressing. Allow your child to practice dressing - whether it is their shoes, socks, clothing, the zippers on their jacket or the big buttons on their cardigan. Include plenty of time when planning your outings to allow your child to independently care for themselves when getting ready.
- Plant care. Give your child the responsibility of watering the plants, and washing the leaves of those plants in your home and garden.
- Seed germination. Take advantage of the seasons by planting herbs and vegetables with your child. Pair this activity with watering the plants as a daily ritual to tend to its growth.
- Cleaning glass. Another favorite activity is spraying the windows and wiping them down with a squeegee.
- Folding laundry. Put your child to task by allowing them to roll or fold the laundry that is clean and placing them in the appropriate locations within the home.
Remember, materials to make Practical Life alive can be sourced anywhere; from second hand stores, flea markets, Target, Amazon or even items you have in your own home! The idea is to have fun with it, be creative, and set your child up for success by ensuring that the materials are child-sized, safe to use, non-toxic and placed in a space that is accessible.
By helping young children institute a deep relationship with Practical Life, we are building a strong foundation for the complex but incredible learning that follows.
Lead Teacher, Mountain Silverbell Toddler Community