The Practical Life area of our classrooms is where our newest and youngest students feel at home from day one. Activities such as pouring beans or water, preparing a snack, and stringing beads are familiar, and interest the 3-year-old child.
Beyond providing a welcoming entry into the class, Practical Life serves several important purposes in our classrooms:
- Fostering concentration skills. Dr. Montessori found that children needed activities of a certain kind, activities that engage the hand and mind, activities that can be repeated and where repetition leads to mastery. The carefully set up exercises in the Practical Life area provide tasks that children enjoy. They start simple, enabling success (e.g., pouring beans from a small pitcher), and become progressively more challenging (pouring rice; pouring water from a small pitcher, then a larger pitcher.) As children become fascinated and repeat activities, their concentration span grows. Interestingly, they also become calmer and happier in the process!
- Developing independence. 3-year-olds want to do many things for themselves. Often, they lack the skills. Tantrums ensue. Practical Life activities teach skills step-by-step. Children learn to button clothes by working with buttoning frames. They learn to cut first bananas, then apples. They learn to pour water.
- Acquiring gross and fine motor skills. Children are not born coordinated, nor do motor skills just mature on their own. To have maximize a child’s motor skill potential requires careful guidance. The Montessori preschool room is set up with that in mind. Children carry trays of activities, and learn to keep them balanced, as they move about a classroom full of obstacles (their friends, chairs, shelves.) They strengthen their arm muscles by washing tables and blackboards (in circular motions); they improve their balance by walking on a line, often in rhythm of music, and sometimes with objects balanced in their hands or on their heads.
- Developing a sense of order. A typical practical life activity has several components, all presented together on a small tray. The child learns to take this tray from a shelf, take it to a work rug or table. There, he completes his work, and then rearranges all the pieces on the tray, and carefully replaces them on proper spot on the shelf. Repeating this cycle daily, children learn that processes have a beginning, a middle and an end. Because materials are set out beautifully on open shelves, and because children at this age crave order, this is the time to guide them toward careful, orderly habits!