Montessori Practical Life Skills

Practical life skills and activities are common tasks & chores that we undertake on a daily basis, which provides young children with exposure to them at a very early age. Work in the kitchen, backyard, and garden are all practical life skills, and by doing these activities preschool children not only satisfy their need to emulate adult behavior, but also develop physical coordination and control of movement. In the preschool setting, these domestic activities also help children to feel comfortable, and ease their adjustment to the preschool setting. This encourages normalization and helps provide a calm learning environment.

What are Montessori Practical Life Skills?

Montessori Practical Life skills consist of a diverse group of activities to help preschool children develop coordination, improve concentration, master basic life skills, and become more independent and self-motivated. Practical life activities include a wide variety of simple common tasks such as practicing grace & courtesy, learning how to tie shoes, washing hands & dishes, watering plants, and a variety of arts & crafts activities.

Over a hundred years of experience has shown that there are specific activities that have universal appeal to preschool-age children. This is how the activities of Practical Life were selected, and why Practical Life skills still remain on the list of basic Montessori lessons. In Practical Life, we will provide children a wide array of choices, materials, and activities that are attractive and meet the child’s cognitive and emotional needs. By providing practical life skills to the child, the child will gain self-control, self-confidence, concentration, and will learn to control their movement and motor coordination. Finally, the child will become independent and reach their inner goal of being able to complete daily activities on their own. As teachers and parents, that allows us to reach our ultimate goal of helping children to develop true practical life skills.

In Dr. Maria Montessori’s own handbook, she tells us how important and valuable of the practical life toward the child. She states “The education of the movements is very complex, as it must correspond to all the coordinated movements, the child has to establish in his physiological organism. The child if left without guidance, is disorderly in his movements and this orderly movements are the special characteristic of the little child. In fact, he never keeps still and touches everything.” She also mentions “As a matter of fact, in these movements the little child is seeking the very exercise which will organize and coordinate the movements useful to man. We must, therefore desist from attempt to reduce the child to immobility. We should rather give order to his movements leading them to those actions towards which his efforts are actually tending. This is the aim of muscular education at this age.”

Dr. Montessori states the wonderful results of giving the child practical life activities “Once a direction is given to them, the child’s movement are made towards a definite aim to that he himself grows quiet and contented and becomes an active worker, a being calm and full of joy. The education of the movements is one of the principle factors in producing that outward appearance of ‘discipline’ to be found in the Children’s Houses.”

Mind in the Making

In the video Mind in the Making, Dr. Elizabeth Caspari explains that children love to touch and physically interact with things. By providing concrete objects, materials and activities to children, they get to use the sense of touch, and in fact they can use all five of their senses to work with activities and develop their own abilities. Dr. Caspari also mentions not to disturb the environment of the children because it disrupts the child’s sense of order, precision and emotion. That is why the concept of the ordered Montessori school environment (such as shelves, practical life’s main activities) is the same in every part of the world, but still remains adaptable to different cultures.

Values & Goals of Practical Life Skills

Brain, nerves and muscles are all used by children to control physically movement – when used together, this is what coordination is. At first, children have to visualize in their minds what they are going to learn and do, and then they attempt to do it physically. That is the reason that we give the lesson to one child at a time with the intense of attention to detail and exactness. The teacher will keep practicing the lesson, go through materials step by step until they are confident with the teaching process, and then the teacher will demonstrate the practical life task to the children carefully, correctly, and with analysis movement (moving slowly and pausing after each movement). That way, the child will be able to watch all of the details and follow the lesson correctly.

In the video, Motor Education through Practical Life (Part 2), Mary Ellen Maunz explains the goal of teaching children lessons is not simply to give them an assignment. We do not expect them to do the work right away. We show them how to do things in practical life lesson that way when the child senses the need for learning, the child can come back and work on it independently after seeing the teacher demonstrate the lesson.

The Goals of Practical Life OCCI

Helping the individual child to develop his own internal order, coordination & control of movement, concentration and independent are the goals of Practical Life. We called OCCI:

  • Order – The child develops the internal order and learns the sequences when working with materials from simple step of activities to complex steps of activities which will help him become more advance in mathematics and language activities.
  • Coordination and control of movement – The child works with an activities such as building the pink towel as the first simple step and from exercising a simple step, he gradually becomes fluent and soon he can be able to work on more complicated work such as making his own Q-tips from a cotton balls to do plant shining.
  • Concentration – Concentration brings children to the stage of normalization, the calming and centering of the child. The child is obviously concentrated and getting so deep and intense to the chosen work. It looks like he is in his own world even though he is surround by other friends in the classroom. By selecting his own work without any force from teacher or anybody, we can see the look of joy and confident through the eyes of the child.
  • Independence – We help the child to be able to do it by herself or himself which will bring the children to the stage of confident, independent, joy and feeling proud of himself and herself.

Preparing Practical Life Lessons

Practical Life lessons are not assignments for the child. Think of them as an invitation, each one being a new activity that the child can select.

  • The lessons should be ages appropriate.
  • Provide attractive materials, matching colors
  • The purpose of the lesson for the children – what they will learn and what they will receive after learning or working on the activities.
  • Safety materials for children
  • The simple, analysis movement, being graceful, quiet and slowing down will be required while showing children the lessons.

Practical Life Skills Are Comprised Of

  • Primary movement of everyday life – such as pouring water from small pitcher to another, along with activities such as: handling materials, walking, sitting, pouring water, pouring rice, picking up small objects with tweezers of tongs, making juices, preparing snacks for themselves and their friends.
  • Care of the environment – Activities such as: plant shining, plant watering, washing dishes, sweeping, using cleaning tools to clean table, cleaning the classroom, metal polishing.
  • Care of the person – Activities such as: washing hands, brushing teeth, combing hair, shoe polishing, dressing up with buttons or zippers.
  • Gardening – Activities such as planting, pulling weeds, harvesting, using tools of gardening.
  • Gymnastic exercises – Activities such as rhythmic activities, walking the lines, singing, dancing, balancing themselves by using bells or holding a tray of cup filled with water while walking on the line.
  • Line work – This is a classic example of Montessori creative coordination and control of movement activity that help children’s internal and external development.

In the case of line work, children need to practice the perfect movement of their body, and learn to consolidate their body movements – for example, by walking on the lines of sidewalks and trying to balance themselves. Dr. Montessori used this line walking exercise to help children control their bodies, develop balance and perfect equilibrium. It gives children a chance to strengthen the control of their minds and movements. There are variety of activities during walking on the line activities.

Walking on the line additionally gives children the opportunity to socialize with their friends after concentrating on their skill mastery. They get to exercise with their bodies, interact with their friends, and practice their ability to balance while listening to music. This Practical Life skill also incorporates some challenging movements such as walking heel to toe, hopping, carrying a tray filled with water while balancing themselves on the line or carrying a flag or bells without waving or making noise. The area used for this activity should be open and clear from obstacles for the safety of the children.

A Basic Lesson In Pouring Water

  1. The teacher prepares and practices with materials.
  2. The teacher invites the child to watch the lesson, and gently explains is about before presenting it.
  3. While demonstrating the activity of pouring water, the teacher remains silent, practices graceful movement, and pauses or slows down when necessary for the child to be able to watch and follow the lesson.
  4. The teacher places a tray in front of the child, and positions their right hand over the handle of the right pitcher. They curve their fingers and grasp the pitcher, then slowly lift the left pitcher up a few inches off the tray. Then, gently move the pitcher in your right hand into position over the left pitcher, and finally tip to pour.
  5. Listen and watch as water pours into second pitcher. Turn the pitcher upright. Move it back into position over the tray. Place both pitchers down onto the tray. Release your grasp. Use little cloth to clean up if there’s any drip on the tray.

Grace and Courtesy

Teacher shows children by performing gracefully, kindly and politely in the classroom. When the teacher observes a child in acting unkindly to a Practical Life material, the teacher should take a mental note and make sure to show the children how to handle material correctly and kindly later, during circle-time. For example, the teacher will show the children how to roll the rug and how to walk around the rug and handle the rug gently and respectfully to the material. Then they will invite children to participate, including the children who was misusing the material, without blaming or embarrassing the child.

Teaching grace and courtesy are the process of setting up the classroom rules and the children after learning the lesson, they gradually learn how to be graceful and use courtesy in their classroom. All lesson doesn’t need to be taught on the first day of school but we can choose a few of them every day to establish our classroom ground rules.

Example of grace and courtesy activities such as getting children’s attention by ringing the bells and children stand up still quietly, getting teacher attention by waiting patiently in the line for teacher to talk to, practice raising hands to take a turn when a child wants to speak, greeting and shaking hands with teacher, friends and adults, walking around mats and objects in the classroom, closing the bathroom door when using it, carrying material carefully and gently.

Grace and courtesy are the important parts of our society and in everyday life. Montessori schools set the standard and reinforce grace and courtesy every day in the classroom so children have the opportunity to learn how to behave and how to socialize in the society. This is one of the important ways that Montessori Practical Life skills prepares children to grow into graceful adults and become good members of society.