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Practical Life is an area in the Montessori philosophy that encompasses skills practical to everyday life. Generally, the activities of practical life revolve around Caring for the Self and Caring for the Environment. The purpose and aim of Practical Life is to help the child gain control in the coordination of movement, and help the child to gain independence and adapt to his society.
With children and families spending most of their time at home in our current crisis, this could be an opportunity to help children develop some of these life skills. As a recent article in National Geographic proclaimed – “OK, so you’re not actually a teacher. You still have plenty to teach your children.”
As you know children love to help around the house and what are chores to us, children will do over and over again. Montessori says children learn through repetition. Although in a classroom the equipment is mostly child-sized, this is not necessary in the home. Think about what items your child will need and have them at the ready and be there to step in to help out when needed.
In the kitchen children can:
- Spread butter or other spreads on crackers
- Cut and peel bananas
- Squeeze orange juice
- Dish washing (use a small bowl and be prepared to wash again!)
- Pouring water
- Help with baking
In the home they can:
- Dust furniture
- Polish furniture
- Polish shoes
- Arrange flowers
- Sweep and mop
- Clean windows
In the yard/garden
- Planting seeds (sunflowers on a window sill are great if you don’t have a garden)
- Weeding using a small trowel
- Digging (you can create your own mud kitchen!)
- Raking up the grass cuttings or leaves
- Watering the plants inside and outside
- Sieving and gathering stones and other objects in the soil
- Hand washing (a vital part of our “new normal” lifestyle – here are some suggestions on 20 second kids’ songs to keep them engaged while washing)
- Nose blowing (put out a mirror and a box of tissues for the child to watch themselves)
- Hair brushing
- Teeth brushing
- Scrubbing nails
- Hair washing
Other ideas for the home are:
- Helping with the laundry – bringing clothes to the laundry basket, putting clothes in and out of the washing machine, adding soap, sorting the wash.
- Getting dressed and undressed – provide just as much help as necessary and provide clothing that is easy for your child to learn to master.
- Help with breakfast – have a container with a scoop in it for them to serve their own cereal; add a small jug of milk set on the breakfast table.
- Help with lunch – have a small number of items where the child can serve themselves, for example, some slices of bread or rice crackers with various toppings or spread, the child may wish to wash up, too.
- Help with dinner – preparing vegetables and salad (look for implements suitable for small hands that will work), setting the table and washing up.
- Getting ready for visitors (when allowed again) – making the beds, getting a towel and tidying away toys.
- Trips to the supermarket (when appropriate)
Tips for at home:Most of all, remember it is meant to be fun. Stop before you feel overwhelmed and keep practicing!
- Only put out as much as you want to clean up – be it water, dish soap or a travel size bottle of shampoo.
- Have cleaning supplies at the ready – a hand mitt on the table to wipe up spills, a child size broom and mop for larger messes.
- When they are under 2-years old, activities will have one or two steps. As they gain mastery, add more steps, e.g., put on an apron, clean up at the end, take wet cloths to the laundry, etc.
- Focus on the process, not the result – when your child helps, it will take longer, it may not look perfect at the end, but your child is learning to master these skills and you will have a life-long helper at home.
- Look for ways your child can help – when younger keep it simple (an 18-month-old can help carry the shirt while you carry the trousers to the laundry basket, or can rinse some salad leaves for dinner): as they get to 2+, they can help out even more.
- Look for baskets, trays and simple boxes to arrange items for them to help.
- Does it look attractive? Sometimes it is fun to add items that are the same color, keep items looking fresh and don’t overcrowd the tray or basket so it looks cluttered.
- Keep it budget friendly – I’m sure you can create these activities with things you have around the home.
BenefitsNot only do your children take pleasure from these Montessori activities, these activities are also very good for calming busy children.
- Your child learns to take responsibility in the home.
- Collaboration creates connection.
- These skills require repetition to gain mastery, which is important for building concentration.
- Your child likes to feel a part of the family and able to contribute.
- These activities involve sequences and you can build up the number of steps in the activity as their concentration grows.
- They involve a lot of movement – good for refining the fine motor and gross motor skills. E.g., pouring water without spilling and using a dustpan and brush.
- There are many language opportunities around these activities.
- Children learn new skills, build independence and gain feelings of self-reliance.
- They inspire curiosity and experimentation.
- Children usually have FUN while carrying out these Practical Life activities.