What is Practical Life and why is my child spooning, pouring and washing windows at school?
With so many new children and families entering Primary II this year, Monica and I realized that it would be beneficial for us to address the incredibly important area of the classroom known as Practical Life. Perhaps your child has come home and told you she did pouring work, polishing work or even arranged flowers. Maybe you have watched uneasily during drop-off as a child carried a tray full of glass objects and just were not sure what the point of all this was.
It is in the Practical Life area where children learn the foundation for all other areas of the classroom, what you may have heard us refer to as O-C-C-I, which stands for order, concentration, coordination and independence. While the activities may appear simple, they are highly purposeful, and can be quite complicated with many steps. It is in Practical Life children learn the basics of self-care, care of the environment, and activities that encompass everyday living, or “domestic curriculum.” These activities are meant to fill in the gaps of a child’s life because it is here she will learn to dress well, speak well, and become capable of taking care of her own hygiene. Children begin to understand the importance of manners, what we call in a Montessori environment, “grace and courtesy”. These skills when developed repetitively over time lead children to a greater sense of independence and accountability for their actions. In Practical Life as in all areas of a Montessori classroom, it is critical that the environment is beautifully prepared, because when we use objects that are real and beautiful, and come from nature, items like glass and wood, and we provide work that imitates adult activities but are child-sized, children find tremendous value in their work. They are called to the materials, and they become tuned in to the process of actually doing, and making mistakes along the way, as opposed to focusing on the final result.
The independence and the pride children feel upon completing tasks, as individuals, will ultimately lead to interdependence in the classroom community and beyond.
Practical Life is also where children will learn principles that remain with them throughout their three-year cycle and in all areas of the classroom. They will learn that we always begin with the concrete before the abstract, and they will work from left to right, top to bottom (setting them up for pre-writing and reading).
Each of the senses has to be developed before the intellect can develop. Children learn in practical life how to control their physical bodies by first being able to navigate tactilely. When a child is using a dropper, using a button frame or pouring, she is refining her muscular control. The muscles in the hand need to be used and refined in order for a child to later be able to grasp a pencil and put the appropriate pressure on the pencil. Practical Life also lays the foundation for how to go through a process until it is finished and put back on the shelf exactly how the child found it. Upon completion of a practical life work, a child learns from the very beginning of her Montessori journey that confidence and self-esteem do not result from someone else proclaiming, “good job!” Children beam with smiles and enthusiasm when they declare, “I can do it myself!” A child may choose the same activity every day for weeks, but she will know when she has achieved mastery and is ready to move on. This self-awareness and knowledge provide a sense of security, but it also becomes a model for future academic and personal achievement.