What Do Practical Life Activities Look Like?

In our last post we discussed how Practical Life activities aid the child in the development of independence, concentration, and control of movement. In this post, we will share insights on how Montessori Guides carefully prepare Practical Life activities to ensure they engage the child in the desired manner.

The Organization of Practical Life Materials

First, it is very important that the activities have a purpose that is relevant to the child’s life and therefore are organized by how they relate to the child. The first set of activities are called ‘Care of Self’. These are all the activities that involve taking care of the child’s physical body such as changing or folding clothes, brushing teeth, or using the toilet. ‘Care of self’ activities take the most time in the Toddler community because they are self-centered at this age. This self-centered attitude is an important developmental tool that helps the child gain skills toward becoming more independent.

The next set of activities are called ‘Care of Environment’. These types of activities help to engage the child in their environment and help a child to realize that she can have a direct impact on her community. The child can impact the environment by cleaning activities such as washing a window or dusting a shelf. They can also beautify the environment by arranging flowers or painting a picture.

Lastly, Practical Life activities include the preparation of food. Children are involved in all the activities surrounding food. This includes setting the table, preparing the food, eating politely, cleaning the table, and washing dishes. Being involved in the whole process empowers the child and deepens his understanding of how life works.

To an adult these types of activities are a task and so we do them only when we need to and usually only once. An adult’s focus is in the outcome. However, the child is focused on the process. He does an activity simply for the joy of it. A child may repeat washing the same dish many times even though it is clean simply because he likes the movement. This repetition is important to a child and so it is encouraged in the classroom. And because Montessori teachers know that the process is more important than the outcome, they do not outwardly correct mistakes. Instead they might suggest a child checks his own work and the child can choose whether or not to do so. The teacher might also represent the work at a later time emphasizing certain steps to help the child discover for himself where the error occurred. This helps the child to develop a healthy relationship with error and builds an intrinsic motivation which supports a growth mindset later in life.

Key Attributes of Practical Life Activities

Practical Life activities are prepared, presented, and used in a special way designed for the exact stage of development the child is in at that time. Some of these key characteristics are listed below:

The Activities Are Familiar and Culturally Specific:
For a child to want to work on something, they must have genuine interest. Children want to use materials that they see the adults in their lives using. Therefore, we use the style of material in the classroom that are used in most homes within that culture. For example, in the United States,we typically use a mop head to clean a floor, and so this is what we use in the class. However, if we were in another country, we might use a large squeegee with a towel to clean the floor if this was the common practice there. In the classroom, we match the style to what is used in the home, but the size is child appropriate so they do not experience unnecessary frustration with the activity.

Each Activity Is Orderly and Color Coded:
It is also important for the child to be able to use the activities independently. Having activities that are organized and color coded makes it easy for the child to use and put back when they are finished. If a material is incomplete, the child will get frustrated and stop working. So if we use blue materials for hand washing and yellow materials for dishwashing, it is easy for the child to replace a piece that was misplaced or got dirty.

The Activity Isolates One Challenge at a Time:
While cloth washing may be one activity to an adult, it is actually quite complex to a young child. Therefore, we break it down into several activities in the classroom. A few examples are washing the towels, hanging them up to dry, taking them off the clothes line, and folding them. These separate activities may be done one by one by the same child or individually by several different children..

Analysis of Movement with Points of Interest:
A child learns how to use the materials from watching the guide give a presentation and masters them through repetition. Therefore, it is important that the presentation made by the guide is as clear as possible. We do this by carefully breaking down each movement required to complete the task and modeling these movements slowly and deliberately. We also highlight points of interest within the process such as hearing the water drip from a rinsed plate by pausing for a moment and bringing the child’s attention to that detail. We make a point not to speak and move at the same time as that easily distracts the child who is trying hard to pay attention.

It is the Child’s Choice to Work on an Activity:
Within the classroom, a child has the freedom to choose what activity she uses and for how long. Therefore, a work is presented to the child in a fun and interesting way. This engaging presentation inspires interest within the child so that they are inspired to choose that activity in the future and repeat it often. Activities are designed to encourage repletion instead of perfectly doing it once. This allows them to become comfortable with error and build mastery over time.

How Can Parents Support Practical Life at Home?

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Practical life activities are a wonderful opportunity to implement Montessori practices in the home. While a home is different then a school environment, you can still use some of the guidelines mentioned in previous posts to identify and establish activities that are a unique fit to your family. While activities don’t need to be broken down as methodically as they are in the classroom, it is important to slow down enough so the child can follow and participate. Practical life activities provide an opportunity for a child to find his place as a member of the family. Children want to be involved in the things that they see their parents doing while also feeling that their contribution to the family is important and valued. Doing these things at home with your child at a young age will make their contribution normal and natural so that when they are introduced at the child gets older, he is less likely to see these activities as an unwanted chore.

So as you can see Practical Life activities are quite complex in their preparation and yet simple in their presentation to the child. This balance is what draws the child in and provides them the opportunity to build the foundation for their future learning and development. In our next post, we will share more about this.