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.
- 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.
|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.|