The Purpose of Practical Life
by Jessica Beckinger, K/1 Teacher at Birch Lane Elementary School
What is practical life?
Practical Life is an area of the K/1 Montessori classroom that contains materials intended to help children build independence and gain useful skills for life, as the name suggests. Children will learn a variety of skills like tying a shoe, opening a container, buttoning buttons, using tools, unlocking locks, pouring water, measuring with a measuring tape… the list goes on. An added benefit of these materials is that they improve fine motor skills, focus, and concentration.
Why are practical life skills necessary?
A large part of the Montessori philosophy is the importance of facilitating the growing independence of children. Teachers and parents best serve children of all ages by teaching them to do things for themselves in preparation for adulthood. In Montessori classrooms, all materials are within reach of students, including self-care items like tissues and water fountains, so that children are able to meet their own needs without adult intervention. We do not help children with tasks that they are able to complete without frustration (including zipping jackets, opening snack containers, and tying shoes). Of course, we continue to assist and instruct with all tasks until children are capable of doing them independently.
Quotes by Dr. Maria Montessori on independence:
“We must help the child to act for himself, will for himself, think for himself; this is the art of those who aspire to serve the spirit.”
“Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.”
“The greatest sign of success for a teacher is to be able to say, ‘The children are now working as if I did not exist.’”
“Needless help is an actual hindrance to the development of natural forces.”
“These very children reveal to us the most vital need of their development, saying: ‘Help me do it alone!’”
How can we develop practical life skills at home?
From a young age, children want and are able to assist their parents with tasks and chores. Children should have responsibilities in the home that increase in difficulty as they age. Dr. Montessori found that children actually prefer to do chores with adults than to play with toys. Our children crave our time and attention; working together on the things that need to be accomplished in the home is a wonderful way for children to spend time with us while learning skills that will prepare them for adulthood. Although we can get the job done better and faster if we do it ourselves, we best serve our children by allowing them to work with us and teaching them how the task is to be done. I encourage you to have fun working with your children this school year. Help them view work in a positive light and talk to them about feeling proud of themselves when a task in accomplished! The work is its own reward.