Practical Life Exercises and Child Development

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If you were to ask Montessori teachers which part of “curriculum” is the most important, my guess is most teachers would say Practical Life. Practical Life is the foundation for everything that follows in a Montessori classroom. It is also the one area of the classroom that does not require special materials and tools (other than adjustments for size). The materials used are the easily found in your own home, because the activities are the very same ones we partake in every day in our homes– things like sweeping, washing dishes, folding laundry, combing our hair, getting dressed. Children already want to do these things when they see adults doing them– they want to be part of our world, they want to feel grown up and important. We then simply alter the materials and environment so it suits their smaller size, and let them go to work!

The genius of the Practical Life exercises is two-fold:

You are teaching the child how to care for himself and his environment, thus giving him independence (doesn’t have to rely on an adult to tie his shoelaces or comb his hair) and a sense of pride at being able to do these things all by himself. The exercises are practice for the child’s fine and gross motor skills, allowing him to become better coordinated and learn how better to control and use his own body. This is an indirect preparation for later, more complex exercises and activities that require fine motor control and concentration.

Practical Life exercises teach children to care for themselves, for others, and for the environment. They involve a wide variety of activities such as carrying objects, walking, polishing, sweeping, dusting, lacing, mainly activities that are done in day to day living. It is divided into four major areas namely: movement, care of self, care of environment, and grace and courtesy.

These activities are Montessori’s response to the child’s need for movement, order, independence, among many others; they are basic activities that enable the child to explore his environment and eventually make him one with it. Through practical life exercises, he learns to refine his movements, becomes conscious of his body and of what his body can do. He learns how to move and act in a socially accepted manner, thus helping him in his task of adaptation. He learns the ways of social living and becomes comfortable and confident in his society.

Children are naturally interested in activities they have witnessed. Therefore, Dr. Montessori began using what she called “Practical Life Exercises” to allow the child to do activities of daily life and therefore adapt and orientate himself in his society. Practical Life helps children to develop many skills including order, concentration, coordination and independence.

Order - All practical life activities help the child develop a sense of order - some more than others. For example, sorting activities will help the child develop his sense of order as he learns to organize the materials into groups. Other activities like transferring or spooning will enable the child to develop order by repetition of the exercise and analyzing the steps to get one material or liquid from one container to another.

Concentration - The transferring and spooning exercise requires the child to concentrate as he empties one container ensuring that there are no more beans or liquids left. The preliminary activities tend to be with materials that are larger and with fewer steps. As the child is successful with the preliminary exercise he will move on to do more detailed and lengthy practical life activites. Montessori believed strongly in having an isolation of difficulty in her activities. This way children would not be distracted by external stimuli which might disrupt their learning process. By incorporating an isolation of difficulty the child will have better success in concentration of the task at hand.

Coordination - All of the exercises will help the child with...
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