Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Significance of Practical Life

Look what I found in my draft files!  I am so excited to share this especially after my recent post about Montessori Floor Scrubbing, which you can find here.  The exercises of Practical Life are so essential to the harmony of the classroom and I find it inspiring that even now, at the end of the school year, these lessons play a vital role in the children's days at school.


I often get the feeling while speaking about my Montessori classroom, that generally, people need to know more about the Practical Life activities.  Too many times, it appears to be glossed over in parent discussion while topics of Language and Math materials generate more interest. For this reason, I wish to share additional information regarding the critical significance of the Montessori Practical Life exercises.

The Montessori classroom is a meticulously prepared environment designed specifically to meet the needs of the child both physically and emotionally.  One aspect of the prepared environment includes the Practical Life activities.  Many Practical Life activities are tasks the child sees routinely performed in the home.  They each serve a meaningful purpose as the child masters each piece of work such as tying shoes, pouring water, sweeping, or sewing and cooking. Through Practical Life activities, a child will also develop and refine social skills.  These skills developed through Practical Life build self-esteem, determination and independence. 

The student learns to take care of himself and the surrounding environment.  Maria Montessori explains in, The Discovery of the Child, “Through practical life exercises of this sort the children develop a true ‘social feeling,’ for they are working in the environment of the community in which they live” (5, pg. 97).  Additionally, fine motor skills are improved through use of the Practical Life materials. Through repeated tasks which enable a child to refine concentration, coordination, independence, and order, a child’s sense of self-worth grows.  The Practical Life skills are an essential component in the Montessori classroom.  Not only do they provide a link between home and school for the new Montessori student, but they provide a foundation for life-long love of learning.

While appearing quite simple and repetitive, Practical Life activities are highly purposeful.  A child engaged in such activities demonstrates high levels of concentration, sense of order, and refinement of fine motor skills.  Also, they show a sense of independence through caring for oneself and the environment.  Furthermore, they show respect for classmates and teachers and develop a sense of pride.  Not only are these skills and qualities necessary to progress in the Montessori classroom, but they are also needed as an individual develops into adulthood. 

Practical Life activities can be divided into six main categories.  First, are Preliminary Exercises which assist in creating routine and order in the environment and are prerequisites for other activities.  How to a roll a mat, carry a chair, or how to open and close a door are examples of Preliminary Exercises.  Practical life exercises also include Fundamental Skills such as pouring, spooning, or tonging.  As with all lessons in the Montessori classroom, these activities follow a sequential order and ideally, each lesson builds upon the last.  Another category is Care of Self.  Activities such as washing hands, buttoning, or tying shoelaces assist the child to become physically independent.  Care of Environment is another category involving activities such as sweeping, watering, cleaning, etc.  Control of Movement is an area of Practical Life which encompasses lessons such as Walking the Line and the Silence Game.  Additionally, social Grace and Courtesy lessons are introduced to the child.   These may include lessons on how to say please and thank you, interrupting someone, or introducing friends and acquaintances.  Montessori stressed the relationship of these exercises to the general happiness and well being of the child.  “A child who becomes a master of his acts through long and repeated exercises [of practical life], and who has been encouraged by the pleasant and interesting activities in which he has been engaged, is a child filled with health  and joy and remarkable for his calmness and discipline” (The Discovery the Child, 5, pg. 93).

Varying types of presentations can be used by the teacher to introduce Practical Life activities.  First is a collective introduction given the children at once.  This could include proper table manners, how to interrupt someone, how to speak with an inside voice, or how to turn the page of a book.  Another method is a group presentation given to a small gathering of children.  The last method of introduction is Individual, given only to one child at a time. 
Montessori believed the prepared environment is directly correlated to the child’s development.  The classroom is a specifically designed area arranged solely for the children.  There should be a variety of movement and activity and all work operates together through the disciplines.  Montessori also believed in the importance of aesthetically pleasing classrooms.  Children respond well to beauty, order, and quality in their environment.

Through the Practical Life activities in the Montessori classroom, a child not only learns concentration, coordination, independence and order, but also how to interact with others and gain an understanding and appreciation of the environment.  The child begins to build himself from within while learning to treat himself and others with respect and dignity.  These understandings ultimately prepare the child for entry into society and a lifetime of self-respect and self-worthiness.  Practical Life activities in the Montessori classroom ultimately provide the foundation for success in all areas of life. 

Below are some photos of the Practical Life areas in my classroom:

Handwashing Table

Dry Transferring (set up with a Winter theme).

Wet Transferring (set up with a Fall theme).

Polishing Materials - top: Leather Polishing; middle: replenishables (cotton balls, q-tips, polishing cloths); bottom from left to right:  Metal Polishing (red), Glass Polishing (blue), and Wood Polishing (yellow).

Care of Environment supplies - top:  Cleaning up a spill (orange); Window Washing (green);  bottom:  Washing the Easel (blue) which can also be for table and chair washing...


  1. Thanks for sharing this post! It's great and your PL materials are so beautiful!

  2. You are welcome and thank you! Sasha

  3. Great post! I love your emphasis on the importance of practical life activities! And your materials are always so beautiful - thanks for sharing the lovely photos! I featured your post at the Living Montessori Now Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/LivingMontessoriNow

  4. what materials do you use for both wet and try transfer? Also what do the children do with the water once they have washed their hands or do you dispose of it?

  5. Thank you Deb. I appreciate the link to facebook too! Sasha

  6. Allison, Great questions - The materials vary for dry transfer - I've used so many materials depending on the focus or theme. Pom-poms, beads, beans, foam shapes, etc, are always fun for tonging and spooning. Also, for dry pouring I like to use materials such as sand, flour, rice, etc. Wet transfer is always with water - sometimes I like to use colored water for variations... For handwashing, the child pours the water from the basin to the bucket (underneath the table) and then brings the bucket to our water source where it is dumped out. I love this step as it is another opportunity for the child to move across the room while concentrating on carrying the bucket full of water!

  7. Hi Sasha. I found you through Deb's Facebook link and I can't believe this is the first time I've seen your blog. I am obsessed with all things Montessori and love your practical life post. Can't wait to read your earlier posts.

  8. Sasha,
    Your every post is so full of crucial information. Hope your Montessori exam is just a simple formality - you seem to be so well prepared. Not to mention the materials which are so inviting and possess a great aesthetic value.
    Thank you for the series of marvelous posts. I'm looking forward to your posts;-)

    Can you write something more about your personal Montessori activities done in home with your kids. I do realize, though the idea stays the same the activities and attitude might be a bit different. How you cope with being a mother and a Montessori teacher in one person ;-)?

  9. Sasha you've done a fantastic job explaining the Practical Life area! I've added your link to our blog post: http://tinyurl.com/3vrdr63 Your post will be so helpful to others!

  10. So interesting!! Love all your activities..they are wonderful.

  11. Thank you all for your gracious comments! Ewa, you ask a critical question about the delicate balance between being a mom and Montessori teacher - a topic which probably deserves its own post! I anticipate more home-based posts during the summer months (and after my exams)when we will all be home from school. Your thoughtfulness in the matter is much appreciated! Sasha

  12. What a wonderful post Sasha. The practical life lessons are some of the easiest to implement in the home and are how we started in our Montessori journey. Thank you for posting this and for including such great pictures as well.

  13. How often do you change your themes? I'm having a problem with PL, it's one of the least used areas of my classroom, though I give lessons there all the time. Even the 3 year olds rarely want to repeat the lessons. Very frustrating!I'm thinking
    I have to re-vamp the whole area.

  14. Thank you Thank you....

  15. Thanks again for everyone's positibe feedback! To answer the question regarding how often I change the shelves: Lessons such as the dressing frames, polishing, and washing activities pretty much never change. For polishing, however, I will periodically bring in some different items (and place them throughout the room)and let the children discover them on their own. The transferring lessons are changed each month. I find that this time frame works for our class and each time I place new items on the shelves, there is definitely renewed interest in the activities!

  16. Wow. Your classroom and materials are absolutely beautiful. So inviting.

  17. Thank you! And thanks for reading and leaving a comment! I so appreciate the feedback.

  18. Fabulous!!
    Now I want to go re-do my shelves! haha!!

  19. Thank you, Rachel! It IS fun to re-do shelves! :) Thanks for reading!

  20. This is beautiful! I'm trying to figure out things that I can do with my 2-year-old boy/girl twins at home: http://medoit.org is our blog. I'm tempted to get Montessori certification because it's so fascinating! I'm trying to figure out what age some of these things can be introduced or make sense to do. We have the twins at a Montessori parent/toddler class - our daughter especially loves the handwashing table. I have had them scrub our kitchen tile floor with sponges before, and they loved it! We've also been potty training since they were 13 months old, and we try now to strongly encourage them clean up their own misses (doesn't always work).

  21. Generally I don't learn post on blogs, but I would like to say that this write-up very compelled me to take a look at and do it! Your writing style has been surprised me. Thank you, very great article.Also visit my page 

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  22. Sasha r u still posting your inputs on Montessori methods and practices. I have recently joined the training for lower elementary montessori and I am enjoying unlearning and learning all over again but in a totally enjoyable well thought manner

  23. Firstly I would like to say what a fantastic , informative article.

    I had never heard of the Montessori method of teaching although it is a concept I had discussed with my husband how I would reach a child. I now find myself scouring the internet for all things 'Montessori' in order to teach my granddaughter. Where I live in UK there isn't any Montessori schools so she would need to be taught at home. But you have shown in photos, and shared some marvellous ideas. Thank you!

  24. Hi I hope you are able to see this and will be able to get back to me. What do you use for polish in your polishing activities? Thanks