In this post, I’d like to give a brief over-view of what it means to provide your child with “practical life” activities at home. As time goes on, I hope to post much more on this topic in detail.
As you probably know, Montessori schools divide their classrooms according to age, and put children ages 3-6 into the same rooms, as well as the children 6-9 and 9-12. (Some also provide care for children under 3 in separate rooms.) Age 3 is where all the big “action” begins in earnest. Within the classroom the child is shown a variety of activities to choose from, and as there is only one set of each activity, the children learn to take turns. There are 4 main types of activities presented initially: practical life, sensorial, math, and language. The exact same presentations done in a Montessori school can be done at home.
The first several presentations you do with a 3 year old should ideally be practical life work. From these presentations, the child will learn how to choose, retrieve and put work away, refine gross and fine motor skills, learn skills of independence, and immediately begin to have an improved ability to concentrate.
Montessori albums describe exactly how the presentations can be done. (These used to be “secrets” – only to be used by trained teachers. Now, you can purchase them and see parts online.) My practical life album has about 400 different ideas for practical life presentations! You don’t do them all – you choose from among them which ones (1) you can put together and (2) you think the child would most enjoy. Materials that you can’t make or find locally can be purchased; my favorite suppliers are Alison’s Montessori and Montessori Services. Another helpful site is MontessoriForEveryone. Below is a common organization of types of presentations:
• Grace and courtesy (such as moving carefully around the classroom and welcoming others)
• Whole hand movement (such as transferring objects from one bowl into another)
• Wrist turning (such as pouring beans from one container to another)
• Care of the indoor environment (such as dusting)
• Care of the outdoor environment (such as plant care)
• Care of self (such as buttoning)
• Three-finger grasp (such as knobbed puzzles)
• Writing, cutting and pasting
• Food preparation (such as peeling carrots)
• Handwork. This includes all of the remaining, enjoyable activities that children do with their hands, within a prepared environment, such as knitting, felting, clay, water play, and blocks (we like Wedgit, Kapla, Trio, and Legos.) There’s a type of knitting called corking which I’ve seen boys and girls enjoy, from ages 5 on up. The tool I purchased was called a Clover Wonder Knitter, and with the boys we called it “making rope” instead of “knitting”!
Montessori Practical Life activities can also include specific survival skills, especially for the children in the 6-9 age group. Here are some topics to consider:
- All sorts of cooking, meal planning, grocery planning
- Organizations like Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, or 4H
- Books like the Dangerous Book for Boys (I don’t recommend the mimic version for girls), Knots to Know, and the American Boys Handy Book
- Swimming lessons
- Bike riding
- How to identify poisonous plants and animals
- What do do in case of bad weather
- Building a tree fort
- Basic first aid
- How to use the phone correctly, and answer the door safely
- Knowing his or her full name, address, and phone number
- How to type and use the computer, keeping in mind that the parent is responsible for ensuring internet safety.