Practical Life with a Toddler: Naturally!

An important part of the curriculum in any Montessori classroom is the “exercises of practical life.” Most of the activities found in the Practical Life area of Montessori environments fit into one of three categories: Care of Self, Care of the Environment, or Grace and Courtesy. As you might have guessed, care of self involves things like learning to dress and groom oneself. Care of the Environment includes things like dusting, sweeping, table washing and care of plants; and Grace and Courtesy focuses on basic manners and general kindness toward others.

My background in Montessori has a great deal of influence on the way I have set up our home. I do not, however, design specific practical life exercises. Why? Because I believe that in a home where children are respected and given freedom, and where parents invite children to be a part of all aspects of everyday family life, both inside the house and in the community, all of the aims of the practical life area are easily achieved.

When it comes to arranging an environment that is practical and functional for the developing child, the opportunities are limitless. The following is a basic list of ways that we have arranged our home environment to allow for learning through ‘practical life.’

Care of Self:

  • Stools, toilet seat reducers, and the like allow for independence in things like toileting and handwashing.
  • A toddler accessible closet makes it easy for the child to choose his or her own clothing, and a natural extension of this is practice in dressing oneself.
  • Access to basic items needed for grooming, such as a comb, a toothbrush, and washcloths, allows for independence in these areas of self-care as well.
  • Access to snack items and drinking water help children to regulate and tend to their own feelings of hunger and thirst.
  • Serving meals family style and allowing children to serve their own food and pour their own beverages not only fosters independence in this area, but also helps develop fine motor skills.
  • Choosing developmentally appropriate, easy to put on and take off shoes and clothing helps foster independence and keep frustration to a minimum.
Care of the Environment:
  • A child-sized broom, dustpan, and mop as well cleaning towels and a child-friendly all purpose cleaner make it easy to tidy up after oneself.
  • Modeling is key. Maintaining a sense of order helps the child to develop the same, and they learn by watching to treat belongs with gentleness and care, and to put things back when they are finished using them.
  • Having plants and pets around and involving children in their care is another great opportunity for teaching care of the environment.

Grace and Courtesy

  • Here, modeling is virtually all that is needed. In my opinion, it simply is not developmentally appropriate to expect a toddler to consistently ask for things by saying please and respond to having needs met with a thank you, but over time children will develop these habits if they have seen them exhibited on a regular basis.
  • Bodily autonomy and modeling are important as well. By respecting the child and their right to make decisions about their person: what to wear, when to offer a hug, etc., we are teaching the importance of this type of courtesy and extending it to others is only natural.
Here are a few photos of Annabelle at work in her ‘practical life.’
A floor bed can be viewed as part of the “care of self” category, since it allows for freedom and self-regulation with respect to sleep. Though she still wants to nurse when she gets there, Annabelle now walks to bed herself when she’s ready, and she is welcome to get up when she is well-rested.
Eating at the child-sized table also allows Annabelle to get up as she pleases (care of self). It also makes it easy for her to clean up (care of the environment) when she’s finished. Here she is also demonstrating a bit of grace and courtesy by signing “thank you.”
A step stool and a seat reducer make independent toileting possible. A basket of cloths for wiping and a pail to put them in also help to facilitate self-care in this area.
Chatting with the ladies at the next table over in a cafe, Annabelle practices Grace and Courtesy.
The Learning Tower and a child-sized rolling pin allow Annabelle to participate in food preparation.


How do you incorporate the “Exercises of Practical Life” into your daily life?

Linking up to Montessori Monday at One Hook Wonder and Living Montessori Now!

9 thoughts on “Practical Life with a Toddler: Naturally!

  1. tinsenpup

    I like the emphasis on enabling independence in Montessori education, but like you, not when it's overly contrived.  As usual, many of your ideas are inspiring. Our little one has adopted the task of feeding the cat each day. It's incredibly cute and gives her real pleasure. The older one, however, has always required more gentle pushes along the way. In spite of my beliefs to the contrary, I found that she needed guidance more explicit than modeling, which has been challenging at times.

  2. Amanda

    We also use the learning tower in the kitchen and try to make things as accessible as possible in other rooms. For example, we have a step stool in the laundry room so Jonathan can help us put laundry in the washing machine (we have a top loader). He's so proud to be able to help! 

  3. jaqbuncad

    I do wonder about the self-dressing thing – while both of mine seem able to remove any item of clothing at will, only Libra at nearly three has even attempted to master putting them back on.

    I love this list, though. It's a great reminder that everything is a learning experience for them at this age.

  4. Rach

    Thanks for the list Melissa.
    I so agree with you about not setting up tasks but just including them in day to day life.  Of course this does make things harder and definitely slows things down, but it's a vital part of parenting.  The look of pride and satisfaction on B's face when she does things for herself is priceless. 

    We have a similar set up, but one thing I'm not sure about is the child size table for meals.  I can see how this works in nurseries, but not at home. I think it's important for us all to share meals, and this does mean she has to join us at the big table.  We have a stokke trip trapp chair though so she can get up and down herself.

  5. Discovering Montessori

    Nice post! I really like how you addressed the expectation of wanting toddlers to say please and thank you. It is wonderful if they are able to do so, but I think modeling this is the best way. I can't tell you how many times a parent has persisted on their toddler to tell me thank you. Sometimes I have even seen the child get disciplined for not doing this:(
    Again thank you for addressing this it has inspired me to write a quick poem to place in our walk way. Thank you again for another inspiring post!

  6. swedishjenn

    Stopped by to reciprocate your stop by today and I was tickled to see you're a Montessori teacher! Our son goes to a Montessori school here in Sweden and it's one of the best gifts I ever could have given him. Really enjoyed this post as it reminded me how important it is to let the little guy (newly 5) be more independent.

  7. Pingback: Montessori-Inspired Food Preparation for Preschoolers |

  8. Deb @ Living Montessori Now

    I love the way you’ve incorporated Montessori principles and practical life activities so organically into your home, Melissa! The photos of Annabelle are adorable! I featured your post and food preparation photo in my Montessori-Inspired Food Preparation post at
    Deb @ Living Montessori Now recently posted..Montessori-Inspired Food Preparation for PreschoolersMy Profile


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