What is Practical Life All About?
A toddler is seated at a small table, carefully guiding a toothpick through the tiny hole in the top of an oil & vinegar shaker. Beside him, a classmate carefully pours water into a vase before adding a few small stems of flowers. Nearby, a teacher and children use blunt slicers to prepare cucumbers for the morning snack. Scenes like these are hallmarks of the Montessori toddler classroom, and look quite different from many other early childhood settings. To the unaccustomed eye, the purpose of these activities, cobbled together from seemingly random household items, can be difficult to discern. But upon close inspection, one notices that the first child holds the toothpick with a grasp closely resembling the pencil grip he’ll eventually master. His classmate is developing focus and concentration as the flowers engage her senses of sight, smell, touch, and aesthetic awareness. And those involved in the preparation of the healthy snack are now inclined to sample it themselves.
Practical Life work extends far beyond a single shelf in the classroom. It comprises the child-sized mops, brooms, and window-washing materials; the boots that beckon a child to practice removing and replacing his shoes; the watering can being carefully hauled between the sink and the classroom plants; the dishwashing table awaiting the morning’s plates and cups; and much more. These materials and experiences are deeply enriching to the toddler’s developing sense of self.
Practical Life activities:
- Promote a sense of pride and ownership in the classroom environment.
- Enable children to interact with real-world objects, mastering the use of tongs, juicers, tweezers, rakes, basters, and other implements they’ll encounter for the rest of their lives.
- Enhance physical coordination, promoting both large and small muscle development.
- Build independence and self-esteem by providing toddlers opportunities to care for themselves.
- Convey a sense of trust between caregivers and children, communicating that we see them as capable and worthy of using the real tools, kitchen devices, and other household items they long to explore but are often forbidden.
- Allow children the gratification of completing a defined task from start to finish.
Best of all, these activities are some of the easiest to duplicate in the home environment. Many parents are surprised to discover how much their toddlers enjoy simply pouring water from one cup to another, matching socks from the day’s laundry, or using a whisk broom and dustpan to help with sweeping. The results aren’t always perfect, yet every experience brings a child closer to mastery of these helpful household skills. A little time, space, and patience now can create young children who are eager and capable helpers down the road. And nothing quite compares to the pride on a child’s face – and in a parent’s heart – when they work and succeed together!
These websites offer some great ideas for creating Practical Life experiences at home: