“If teaching is to be effective with young children, it must assist them to advance on the way to independence. It must initiate them into those kinds of activities which they can perform themselves and which keep them from being a burden to others because of their inabilities. We must help them to learn how to walk without assistance, to run, to go up and down stairs, to pick up fallen objects, to dress and undress, to wash themselves, to express their needs in a way that is clearly understood, and to attempt to satisfy their desires through their own efforts. All this is part of an education for independence.” – Dr. Maria Montessori
In Montessori philosophy, independence is an essential component of a child’s development and a critical factor in their overall well-being and success. Particularly during the toddler and preschool years, one of the ways we nurture that independence is via Practical Life, with activities designed to build the child’s capabilities in dressing, food preparation, sweeping, tending to plants, polishing, etc. Children LOVE to learn how to do the many tasks they watch the adults in their lives perform at home and are highly motivated to master Practical Life work. Many Montessori Academy parents are surprised to discover that their 3-year-olds, with proper instruction, can do many things for themselves and can contribute meaningfully within their classroom and family communities!
A child who feels capable of acting in the world without needing to rely on Mom or Dad for every little thing is a child who is developing self-confidence. Writes psychologist Madeline Levine: “Self-esteem doesn’t contribute much to success. But success contributes mightily to self-esteem. Kids have to ‘do’ something, and do it well, to get a self-esteem boost.”
Of course, like all aspects of a Montessori classroom, Practical Life has many additional learning objectives beyond self-confidence. Here are just a few:
- To develop concentration. Practical Life is usually where a child first connects with material and immerses fully in a chosen repeated activity. A child who previously darted around the room, unable to pause long enough to connect with any particular material, might become fascinated with pouring water back and forth or with drying a table. In doing so, the child learns to focus on mastering a new skill. This starts a child’s attachment to the many Montessori materials, which build in complexity to help develop concentration.
- To develop fine- and gross-motor skills. Practical Life tasks are excellent motor skills activities. Carrying heavy objects such as classroom chairs or buckets of water builds gross motor strength; pouring from a small pitcher or scrubbing a table increases the precision of movement; peeling an egg, using a dropper, or picking up dropped beans all strengthen the three fingers needed for writing with a pencil.
- To develop problem-solving skills. Like most Montessori materials, Practical Life activities have a built-in control of error: They enable the child himself to judge whether an activity has been done satisfactorily or not (water has spilled; a button is left without a hole; the loosely rolled rug won’t stand up in the bin). With positive guidance from his teacher, the child learns to pay attention to these cues and acquires a habit of self-correction.
- To develop logical work habits. Practical Life activities progress in complexity and, in doing so, increase a child’s ability to work through a series of steps in a logical way from beginning to end. This is vital for success with more abstract language or math work later on.
While many parents are eager to see their child progress to academic lessons in the preschool classroom, we hope you’ll see the hidden value in Practical Life and wholeheartedly support your children as they explore the many fun and educational activities in this unique part of a Montessori education.