By Anna McLean – Preschool Deputy Principal
The Practical Life activities are a key part of a preschool classroom. Quite simply they are what they say they are. They are real life activities that children are naturally drawn to wanting to do and ones that are hands-on and need to be repeated in order to gain proficiency.
Practical Life activities are the first area that a child will be given lessons in. Right from the very first day they enter a classroom they need skills to be able to operate independently. In order to have a drink of water they need to be able to pour water from a jug. They need to know how to carry a chair, roll a mat, carry a tray to a table etc and the key thing is they want to be able to do these things!
“It is interesting to notice that where life is simple and natural and where the children participate in the adult’s life, they are calm and happy.”
Maria Montessori, The 1946 London Lectures, pg 152
The Practical Life activities in a Montessori classroom use real, child-sized tools and equipment that give children the skills that allow them to be independent. This independence from adult support allows them to gain that sense of satisfaction that they have done it themselves. Using the sweeping analogy, the broom is the right size! They can be successful in sweeping the floor because the handle is the right length and the broom head isn’t too heavy or ungainly to move. Even better, they can practice the actions of sweeping for as long as they want to. It is not about sweeping the floor. It is perfecting the movement of sweeping that they have seen others do and being able to do it without help.
“One sees that these small children have a tendency to work in their play, imitating the actions of the adults. They don’t consider what they do to be play – it is their work.”
Maria Montessori, The 1946 London Lectures, pg 151
Alongside meeting the need to imitate what adults do, the Practical Life activities also assist self development through control of movement, development of hand-eye coordination and muscle coordination which prepares the child for other activities. Practical life activities have an important place throughout the whole three year cycle of a child’s time in preschool. There is a progression in the activities from simple to complex. Some lessons such as cloth washing have many steps and need the development of concentration and perseverance in order to complete the cycle of activity. Any activity that is refining the movements and strengthening the hand is providing indirect preparation for holding a pencil and writing.
Rest assured that any time your child comes home from school and talks about all the practical life activities they have been doing at school, they are actively building their intelligence through the use of their hands!