The Practical Life area of our classrooms is where activities such as pouring beans or water, preparing a snack and stringing beads are familiar, and interest the 3-year-old child. Practical Life serves several important purposes in our classrooms:
FOSTERING CONCENTRATION SKILLS
Dr. Montessori found that children need activities that engage the hand and mind, that can be repeated, and where repetition leads to mastery. The carefully set up exercises 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!
3-year-olds want to do many things for themselves but they often lack the skills. As a result, tantrums ensue. Practical Life activities teach skills step-by-step. For example, children learn to button clothes by working with buttoning frames.
ACQUIRING FINE MOTOR SKILLS
Maximizing a child’s motor skill potential requires careful guidance. In the Montessori preschool room, 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 also improve their balance by walking on a line, often in the 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 and take it to a work rug or table. There, they complete work by rearranging all the pieces on the tray, and carefully replacing them on the 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!