Introduction to Practical Life
A child’s work is to create the person they will become. An adult works to perfect the environment but a child works to perfect themself.”
- Dr. Montessori
This distinction is best illustrated by a father and son, planting a tree on a hot day. Both are shovelling soil to create space for the tree. If anyone offers help to the father, he accepts gladly, grateful for a break. The son however, clings possessively to the shovel because he is the only one that can do this work. By constant repetition of movement, he is strengthening his muscles, perfective coordination and gaining confidence in a particular skill.
The Practical Life exercises in a Montessori classroom are designed to satisfy the child’s need for meaningful activity and to support their learning of the following key skills:
Control of movement
Social awareness (grace & courtesy)
The Practical Life activities consist of familiar objects that a child normally sees every day. The goal of these activities is not only to help children build self-confidence in their working abilities, but to expose the children to fundamental work that builds up their concentration span with activities they will encounter through adulthood. For the young child there is something special about tasks that an adult considers ordinary - washing dishes, cutting celery, arranging flowers. They are exciting precisely because they imitate adults and imitation is one of the child’s strongest urges during these early years.
Although the Practical Life exercises may seem simple and commonplace, they are actually a very important part of the Montessori program. Each of the tasks helps a child perfect coordination which indirectly prepares them for later academic work. Without concentration and attention, future learning cannot take place and these practical life exercises help them to gradually lengthen the time in which they can focus their attention on a specific activity.