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Intro to The Montessori Schools Curriculum: Practical Life, Part 2 of 2

What is the Purpose of the Practical Life Area?

The Practical Life area can be somewhat confusing for many parents. Although you will most certainly be pleased when your child gains the ability to independently dress and pour without spilling, you may not have considered the many strategies behind teaching such basic skills.

Process over Product

Practical Life exercises are about teaching process. This educational strategy is very different from emphasizing a particular end game or how to achieve a specific answer. Each exercise has a definitive beginning, middle, and end. To complete a work, the child demonstrates ordered thinking, coordination, concentration, and independence. Through the process, the child experiences early self-reliance—the solid foundation necessary for all future learning.

One of the most profound ways that Practical Life work refines fine motor skills is through control of error. The teacher has no need to intervene, because the child can recognize that the objective of the work has not been realized.



When the child sees that the materials are not responding as designed, an attempt is made to perfect use through additional practice. The process leads to the perfecting of his or her own fine motor coordination.



Care of the environment is stressed in the Practical Life area, which is also the case for the entire Montessori classroom. Children may not take out a second activity until the first has been returned to its shelf location. The work must be totally ready for the next student to use. To “ready” the snack table, for example, may require dishes to be washed and dried and the tray (or table) to be reset.

Items used in Practical Life exercises are real, functional, attractive, and often fragile. Real-life consequences of working with breakable materials provide opportunities for the indirect development of coordination, self-control, and both fine and gross motor abilities. This process-oriented work is necessary for the child to be able to move on to working with less ambiguous classroom materials, such as the Geography puzzle maps, math bead materials, language’s Moveable Alphabet, and science experimentation.

Practical Application of Practical Life Concepts (classroom examples)

The dry pouring works play an important role in assisting the child in fine-tuning his or her movements. Our teachers pay particular attention to what will be poured, adjusting the content according to the child’s developmental stage. For example, large, flat beads require less control than tiny, round beads, which can bounce and deflect out of the receiving vessel when the pouring movement is too fast or too jerky.



Through control of error, the child is impelled to analyze and control his or her movements. He or she must then use a pincer grip to extract the tiny objects from where they fell outside of the vessel.



The different vessel choices (spout or no spout, handle or no handle, rounded or square lip) also provide the child with the means to practice the varied ways to manipulate objects in his or her environment.

The Dressing Frames are for practicing dressing skills while developing finger dexterity. For example, the bow dressing frame relies on repetition at each step to succeed at the final goal of tying a bow. The child must practice making the small, delicate movements at each stage: over, under, push, pull. He or she is working on fine motor skills throughout the process.

Your child becomes more independent through mastering different clothing fasteners. Pictured: snap dressing frame.

In contrast, a work like glass polishing requires numerous steps necessitating careful, small circular movements, all leading toward the final objective: a sparkling surface in which to see one’s reflection. As the child strives to achieve this objective, he or she is also fine-tuning motor skills.



Polishing works often involve the synchronization of muscular development and cognition. Physiological development is also in play: the brain and nervous systems’ inner development.



Channeling Your Child’s Mindset

Keep in mind that your child enters the classroom having already gained perceptions, ideas, and knowledge of the world. Practical Life activities will assist him or her in focusing, concentrating, and establishing a sense of order to be applied to the knowledge already accrued—as well as the knowledge to come.

As your child advances through the year gaining additional skills, the Practical Life area will continue to be a critical resource. The ceremonial nature of performing an orderly series of prescribed steps can be meditative and conducive to concentration.

Furthermore, his or her direct association with “home” for many of these works is comforting, regardless of age.

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