Our learning environments at The Montessori Schools are composed of work centers arranged according to subject area. The classroom houses materials for math, language, science, history, geography, art, and music, in addition to areas devoted to mastering basic life skills and to refining sensory perception and the capacity for order and logic.
Children are free to move throughout the room; they are not assigned to a specific desk. They work on rugs or at tables, either in pairs or independently. Cooperative work and community building are essential components of the Montessori classroom.
Within this vibrant, dynamic environment, Practical Life skills development is less conspicuous. But, potentially more so than any other subject area, this work represents the foundation for future learning.
The Montessori Method
The Montessori classroom materials help prepare your child to be successful wherever individual interests may take him or her.
For instance, some components of our curriculum are designed to give a child practice honing fine motor control, eye-hand coordination, and basic skills to navigate social interactions and expectations. Other activities are based on the principle of setting-up your child for success by reducing confusion. By focusing on one idea at a time, your child is free to perceive new possibilities for applying concepts.
All aspects of our curriculum have an underlying driver: to nurture the whole child towards increased independence.
Our goal is to help your child build the foundational learning for a lifetime of success. Dr. Maria Montessori was often quoted as saying, “The child becomes a person through work. The essence of independence is to be able to do something for oneself.” Perhaps no area of the classroom does more to develop self-control and, therefore, autonomy, than Practical Life.
What is Practical Life?
Practical Life activities involve simple, precise tasks that a child may have watched older children and adults perform. Young children are eager to attempt such tasks and to master the necessary skillsets. Our highly trained teachers present the exercises in a sequential order, which ensures that no one task demands a skill that the child has not already practiced.
The repetition of precise movements helps develop fine motor control.
Developing the capacity to accomplish a task, especially a complicated activity involving many steps, is an early stage in the progression toward being able to act independently. This “development” requires concentration. Consequently, Practical Life tasks focused on self-care and care of the environment have as much to do with learning to focus and to direct one’s efforts as they are about mastering important life skills.
Reinforcing principles of grace and courtesy are also key aims of Practical Life activities. Part of your child’s early development is learning how to effectively navigate social-emotional cues. Practical Life skillsets are about instilling a sense of community.
How Does Practical Life Work?
Practical Life represents the foundation of the Montessori classroom. It is through performing these activities (over and over again) that a child is initiated to the fundamental Montessori principles of order, self-discipline, and concentration.
The works provide your child with opportunities to master control of his or her movements when grasping, balancing, pouring, spooning, etc. Mastery is achieved through a series of isolated steps and repetition. He or she eventually learns to analyze and respond with rational, orderly actions, using the mind as a guide.
Works that focus on coordination, often through repetition, are ultimately about learning to analyze and control movement.
Such foundation skills are needed to accomplish work throughout the classroom, as well as for facing challenges later in life, both in and out of school. For the child, self-control, in all its forms, is about liberating the mind from any physical constraints preventing achievement of goals.
Preparation for Other Subjects
Practical Life exercises are indirectly designed as initial preparation for both reading and writing. For example, objects are picked-up and transferred using a three-finger grasp, as one would hold a pencil. Through learning to control movement, the child also develops eye-hand coordination.
Many Practical Life works prepare your child for learning how to write.
Teachers present objects in Practical Life works in a left to right, top to bottom sequence. The work is actually executed by the child in the same left to right, top to bottom sequence, therefore, reinforcing the direction that we read text. In a similar fashion, we provide the pre-writer with practice with early letter formation. Works involving scrubbing and polishing engage the wrist and require circular movements, which are taught in an anti-clockwise direction—as if one were writing an “O” or a “C.”
Preparation for Life
It is possible to directly relate Practical Life tasks to the larger world, outside the classroom. The child recognizes in the classroom familiar household chores; an activity’s purpose is self-evident. Similarly, many of the materials are designed to be about physically manipulating the environment. The classroom then becomes an ideal practice arena for the child, prior to tackling more abstract concepts in other subject areas and in life.