By Jean C. Avery
Exercises of PRACTICAL LIFE are designed to develop a sense of order, encourage independence, develop concentration, fine motor control, eye-hand coordination, and lastly, care for oneself and the environment.
Children love to work with their hands. Great curiosity naturally draws the attention of the children to the creative and colorful Montessori Practical Life activities. Materials are chosen specifically for developing skills in a safe and well prepared selection of home like and fun activities. Because these materials are meant to resemble everyday activities, it is important that they be familiar, real, and functional. The attractiveness is of utmost importance as Montessori believed that the child must be offered what is most beautiful and pleasing to the eye.
Various Practical life activities ranging from sorting, matching, pouring, scooping, buttoning, tying, snapping, and polishing are all creatively displayed on Montessori shelves. With great delight, children choose their activities and carry their trays to a seat. Coordination and balance are skills acquired while working in the Practical Life area. Choices for Practical Life materials are endless. Garage sales are the best suppliers for all those little pitchers, containers, and objects that Montessori teachers treasure.
For the children, work is great fun! For the teacher, he/she is indirectly preparing them for more formal learning. An example of indirect preparation for reading is to place Practical Life items from top to bottom and left to right on the trays. Eyes need to track from left to right and top to bottom before being adequately prepared for formal reading. So in Montessori classrooms we take advantage of early skill preparation. Indirect preparation for learning is a great key to success for Montessori. It is an underlying principle that is not so obvious, but very powerful.
At a very young age Montessori students understand it is their job to return their work to the proper place. “How does this happen?” ask most parents. Well, there are several answers. What comes to mind immediately is that the older students in the class will be the first to remind younger students that everything has a proper placement.
This peer teaching and learning is an intricate part of the Montessori Method. It seems that veteran students are diligent to the cause of a well respected and organized classroom. The good news is that the older students gain great confidence as the leaders and the younger students aspire to do the same. This is one of the greatest secrets of Montessori. Role models in the group are themselves and help to create extraordinary leaders. As they work together in the Montessori environment, a community is born where contribution, not competition, are the standards by which they interact. A Montessori classroom remains student centered. The teacher guides, but is not the focal point of learning. All of this and more actually unfolds as early as the introduction of Practical Life Materials.
The beginning of self-esteem starts with “I can do it myself.” Independence, fine motor skills, listening, and self mastery, are great contributors to confident children. It is their nature and part of their development to “Let me do it myself!” Practical Life at home is a great starting point. Remember how much fun it was to make a cake with an adult? Nothing has changed… the batter tastes the same, personal time together makes a memory, and of course, the cup cakes that you help make by “yourself “are delightful.
Practical Life lays the foundation for more advanced learning. Readiness for math and reading starts very early in Montessori Classrooms. Simple activities, simple goals, and simple fun are key to an effective and enjoyable Practical Life curriculum.
ADDING SPARKLE TO PRATICAL LIFE ACTIVITIES.
Creativity is endless with Practical Life. Changing color, adding new objects, trays, and containers add great sparkle to this curriculum area.
Example: sorting objects to teach similarities.
IDEAS: extremely jazzy buttons, old earrings, match box cars, shells, etc.
Remember to think in sets of at least two for matching purposes.
You will be amazed at the response of the children when you add such wonderful learning activities to their environment at school or at home.
Text & photography by Jean C. Avery