Practical life

The term Practical Life is used by Dr. Montessori to describe those exercises which involve everyday activities with real child-sized material. These exercises form the basis of the child’s physical, intellectual, emotional and social development.

These exercises are also called exercises of Daily Living because they involve simple and precise tasks that the young child has already observed adults perform in the home environment and, therefore, wishes to imitate. This desire to imitate is intellectual in nature because it is based on the child’s previous observation and knowledge which was acquired through the absorbent mind.

It is necessary to remember that the child performs these tasks for a different purpose to that of the adult. An adult works to perfect the environment – a child works to perfect him/herself. For this reason it is very important that we allow the child plenty of time to do all the exercises. The activity is more important than the end result.

Principles of Practical Life

Because the exercises should have their roots in the child’s home and culture; there can be no prescribed list of materials involved. In our pre-school we arrange our own exercises based on the Montessori principles.

  • Activities and materials aid the transition from home to school
  • They relate to the relevant culture
  • They are aesthetic and simple
  • Each quality is taught in isolation
  • Each exercise is a preparation for future work
  • Exercises proceed from simple to complex
  • Exercises have an in-built control of error
  • Exercises lead to independence – “Help me to do it myself”

Criteria for preparing Practical Life exercises

  1. There is only one set of material for each of the Practical Life Exercises. This helps the child to achieve self-discipline.
  2. Everything is real, child-sized and in perfect condition. The material should appeal to the child and attract the child to work with it.
  3. There is a place for everything and everything is returned to this place (sensitive period for order).
  4. Each exercise has an inbuilt control of error. This becomes the point of interest, e.g. sweeping the floor – no dust on the floor.
  5. Each exercise offers the child the opportunity for repetition. Repetition encourages concentration which will later lead to normalisation.
  6. Each exercise is activity provoking and involves movement. Montessori believed that the activity of the hand impacts on the development of the mind- “the hand is the instrument of the intellect”.
  7. Presentations are concise and clear. The teacher analyses each exercise before presenting it to the child. He/ she aims for clarity, precision and economy of movement in each presentation.
  8. Exercises are presented in a one-to-one format. Each child is allowed to work at his/her own pace, free from competition and comparison.

Skills developed / Purposes of the Practical Life exercises

  • Develop independence
  • Develop concentration
  • Develop order –
    – internal order in the organising of thoughts and perceptions
    – external order in the layout and organisation of the environment.
  • Develop and refine gross and fine motor skills
  • Develop confidence and a good self-image
  • Develop a sense of responsibility towards one-self, peers and environment
  • Learn to complete a cycle of activity
  • Initiate inner discipline
  • Learn the customs of one’s own culture
  • Prepare the child for future life
  • Develop appreciation for one’s own ability
  • Develop a spirit of helpfulness
  • Develop vocabulary
  • Develop social skills

Programme Content

Practical Life exercises are divided into 4 areas:-

  •  Elementary Movement
  •  Grace and Courtesy
  •  Care of the Environment
  •  Care of the Person

Following observation of the class the teacher will develop and devise Practical Life exercises in order to answer the needs of the children

Examples of the exercises in each area

Elementary Movement:

  • Carrying a chair
  • Carrying a table
  • Walking around the room
  • Sitting on a chair
  • Rolling and unrolling a floor mat
  • Rolling and unrolling a table mat
  • Opening and closing a door
  • Carrying a tray- without objects at first
  • Carrying a jug/ scissors/ knife
  • Transferring objects (palmer grasp)
  • Transferring objects (pincer grip)
  • Exercises involving wrist movement
  • Walking on the line
  • Silence Game

Grace and Courtesy:

  • Library Care- Turning page of a book
  • Morning Greeting
  • Shaking Hands
  • Please and Thank You
  • Excusing Oneself
  • Table Manners
  • Conversation

Care of the Environment:

  • Sweeping
  • Dusting
  • Folding dusters, towels and clothes
  • Mopping up spills
  • Washing tables, chairs, cupboards, dishes etc.
  • Pouring pasta, rice, water
  • Spooning pasta, lentils, rice
  • Polishing objects of glass, brass, silver
  • Setting a tray, table
  • Cleaning vegetables
  • Arranging flowers

Care of the Person:

  • Washing Hands
  • Squeezing sponge
  • Polishing shoes
  • Blowing nose
  • Hanging up coat
  • Brushing hair
  • Folding clothes
  • Dressing frames- how to dress
  • Tying a neck-tie

Proceeding from simple to complex:

Practical Life exercises help the child develop co-ordinated movement and sequencing of activities. The earlier, simple exercises involve fewer stages and less refined movements. A movement can be refined and developed by using smaller, more complex materials. For example, a simple exercise for the pincer grip involves placing clothes pegs on a bowl while a complex exercise involves transferring small items with a tweezers.

Complex exercises can involve a series of movements, all of which have been learned in separate simple exercises. For example, polishing involves removing lids, pouring, folding etc., all of which were learned in simple exercises previously.