Montessori practical life plays a huge role in using the method at home. While it may sound foreign initially, practical life is actually one of the most familiar aspects of each day.
What is practical life in Montessori?
Practical life is a Montessori term used to describe our regular, day-to-day activities. It refers to the daily activities we complete at home, such as cooking, cleaning, laundry, showering, making the bed, etc.
Montessori practical life activities can be completed at all ages. Each activity should be scaled down to meet the child’s ability level. Babies who are not mobile are limited in their ability to participate, but can still join in by holding objects or even simply watching.
Practical life exercises are general focused on care – care of self and care of the environment. Allowing your child to participate to the extent that they are capable and interested is key to Montessori practical life.
What is the purpose of practical life?
Practical life activities have a great deal of purpose. In the Montessori philosophy, practical life provides children with the opportunity to develop autonomy and independence.
Through participation in daily chores and self-care, children learn responsibility at home. These activities help develop concentration, learn to use language, refine movement skills, and create purpose within their daily routine.
Children who grow up in a Montessori home are taught self-discipline through participation in practical life exercises. In addition, when introduced at a young age (as is done within the Montessori method), children are often eager and excited to participate.
The type of concentration and focus that is developed with Montessori practical life will serve as a foundation for future skills and subjects that children learn.
Montessori Practical Life Skills
Before children are able to participate in the full activity, they can practice the individual skills involved through isolation. Here is a list of different practical life skills children can practice individually or within different activities.
- Washing and cleaning
- Pouring and transferring
- Raking and shoveling
- Sewing and weaving
Practical life presentation is key when it comes to the Montessori method. The environment should be kept orderly, in a way that allows toddlers and older children access to all practical life materials.
When children are practicing specific practical life skills, adults should prepare the materials in a way that will allow the child to use them independently. Using these exercises of practical life in Montessori can be a great way to come up with ideas for toy shelves. However, if you don’t have materials to practice these isolated skills, they can easily be learned by taking part in day-to-day practical life activities.
Montessori Practical Life Activities
Once your child becomes mobile, they will likely become very curious and interested in daily activities. Involving them in practical life is a key component of the Montessori philosophy, and luckily, doesn’t take much extra effort or preparation.
One of the best parts about practical life is that you will have endless activities for your child each day without ever needing to buy or prepare anything special.
Here is a list of Montessori practical life activities to help you find ideas to use at home.
- Peeling and cutting bananas
- Pouring water
- Washing hands
- Helping with laundry
- Sweeping and mopping
- Watering plants
- Brushing teeth
- Brushing hair
- Getting dressed independently
- Washing dishes
- Squeezing orange juice
- Measuring and pouring baking ingredients
- Spreading crackers
- Planting flowers
- Throwing away garbage
- Cleaning up toys
- Raking the yard
You’ll be able to add or take away activities from this list depending on what is involved in your own daily routine. The beauty of Montessori is that you don’t have to make it complicated – your child will learn a great deal from simply being involved in your own daily chores and activities.
8 Tips for Montessori Practical Life Exercises
When first getting started with practical life, many parents find themselves overwhelmed with planning, preparing or cleaning. Luckily – it doesn’t have to be this way.
Learning to involve your child in practical life activities can be simple and stress free, if you follow these few simple tips.
Introduce one activity at a time
It can be tempting to have your child simply follow you throughout the day and join in on chores. However, while this is certainly possible after a few weeks or months of practical life involvement, it will only cause chaos as you begin.
Rather than introducing your child to every activity at once, pick one or two to focus on first. Provide your child with multiple opportunities to practice this practical life activity. Once you see that they are confident, you can introduce another activity.
Start with one or two steps
Although chores and self-care feel feel second nature to us, they can be very overwhelming to a toddler or young child. When you first introduce a practical life activity, don’t expect your child to be able to work through the entire thing.
In the beginning, simply provide your child with one or two steps to get involved with. Only once they have mastered these steps should you begin to add more.
Put out only what you’re willing to clean up
Montessori practical life is fairly simple and straightforward, but that doesn’t mean it won’t get messy. When planning to involve your child in practical life, only put out what you are willing to clean up.
If you want them to get involved in the entire baking process, be prepared to clean up all of the ingredients should they spill. If you’re hoping to keep things a little simpler, try first involving your child in the stirring or scooping process, or measuring out a single ingredient, rather than allowing them access to everything.
Focus on the process (not result)
One of the biggest mistakes a parent can make in anything – but especially practical life – is focusing on the end result rather than the process.
When children are first learning, and even months or years after they’ve started, the end result will never be perfect. They might pick out clothes that don’t match, scoop uneven cookies, or miss a few crumbs when sweeping the floor.
However, as you involve them in Montessori practical life activities, remember to focus on what they are doing and how they are doing it. Let the spills go, ignore the mess on the floor, and be okay with bringing them out when they look a bit disheveled – because you know what? They did it themselves, and I bet they’re pretty dang proud.
Choose from activities you already do
Rather than planning elaborate activities that involve extra materials or time, choose to involve your child in chores and self-care activities that are already a part of your own routine.
Children learn best with repetition, and what better way to stay consistent than to simply allow them to be a part of your already existing routine.
Find ways to help without full activity
More often than not, toddlers and young children are not ready to complete a full practical life activity. No matter how excited or confident they may seem, completing an activity in its entirety is often a bit too much.
Sometimes the easiest and most effective way to involve your child in practical life exercises is to find ways for them to help without completing the full activity. Have them pull the laundry out of the hamper, put the diaper in the trash once you’ve changed them, or pour the orange juice that’s already been squeezed.
Involve your child in clean up
Regardless of how carefully you’ve prepared, there are going to be messes. When a child makes a mess, it’s important not to make them feel badly about it. Instead, point it out and show them how to clean it up.
Cleaning up after themselves is an important part of practical life in Montessori. Allow your child the chance to try sweeping or wiping up their mess after they complete an activity.
Observe your child
Most importantly, be sure to observe your child each and every day. If it ever seems that they are not enjoying a particular activity or that you’re having to force them to participate, it’s time to reevaluate the purpose.
Children are often so excited to take part in chores and self-care, until they feel rushed or burdened with the activity. If it seems that this is the case, it might be time to step away and give them a break.
As your child grows, you’ll be able to observe how their interests develop and evolve. If you discover that they are particularly interested in cleaning or cooking, try finding more practical life activities in those areas.
Montessori practical life is an excellent activity to incorporate at home, whether you are following the philosophy in your parenting or not. Your child will benefit from the independence and autonomy that they develop by completing activities on their own each and every day.