Students in traditional classrooms generally spend all their time learning about academic subjects like math, science, and language arts. Montessori classrooms uniquely incorporate other learning areas, like practical life activities, into the curriculum. Practical life encompasses skills that empower students to care for both themselves and the environment. Montessori at home practical life activities can bring this Montessori principle home.
How Do Children Benefit from Montessori at Home Practical Life Activities?
Practical life activities give children confidence and pride in their independence. Maria Montessori spoke of the joy of practical life skills: “Any child who is self-sufficient, who can tie his shoes, dress or undress himself, reflects in his joy and sense of achievement the image of human dignity, which is derived from a sense of independence.” Most parents are familiar with toddler refrains like, “I do it by myself!” or “Don’t help me!” Children find a great sense of satisfaction in accomplishing tasks on their own.
Additionally, practical life activities are a great way to develop fine motor skills and coordination. Dressing frames are a classic Montessori material and a great example of these benefits. These frames help children refine the fine motor skills necessary to button, zip, and fasten clothing.
Guidepost Montessori explains that practical life activities indirectly prepare children for academic skills. For example, Guidepost writes that Montessori students wash tables from left to right — the same direction in which students eventually learn to read.
Montessori Community points out that practical life benefits include sensory experiences for children. Children learn through feeling, smelling, and tasting the world around them. Practical life provides many opportunities for all the senses. As they dig their hands in the dirt as they garden or smell their food baking, they learn and process more than they could without these hands-on experiences.
Parents Benefit From Practical Life Activities, Too
From a parental perspective, Montessori at home practical life activities can improve home life. It’s true that cooking dinner may take a little longer if a toddler is helping. But the process can be more peaceful when your child is happily working alongside you instead of repeatedly asking when dinner will be done. It may surprise you, but even young toddlers can help complete household chores and make your life as a parent easier. This might start with simple tasks like bringing dishes to the sink or wiping up messes and eventually progress to more complex tasks.
Easy Montessori at Home Practical Life Activities
Now that you know the importance of Montessori at home practical life activities, you may be wondering what it looks like in practice.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
The kitchen is rich with practical life opportunities. A stool or learning tower can make it easier for children to participate. They may enjoy measuring, scooping, whisking, and mixing. Start simple. Transfer work is a great starting point. Even small 1-year-olds can transfer already-cut potatoes, for example, from a cutting board to a bowl. As they gain more experience in the kitchen, they can whisk batter or eggs before they’re cooked. Eventually, they can use dull toddler knives to cut soft foods. With time, experience, and supervision, older children can eventually transition to cooking with heat. Ideas for practical life in the kitchen will come to you as you consider what your child can do safely in your personal routine.
Laundry is another simple chore that children of any age can help with. Sorting is a valuable early math skill. Children can help separate whites, colors, and towels. When it’s time to do laundry, children can load clothes in the washer or help you hand wash them. Pouring detergent or soap into the washer or sink is good fine motor practice.
Self-care is a key component of practical life. Home is the perfect environment to practice these skills. With patience and a prepared environment, children can practice dressing and undressing themselves from a young age. Providing accessible tissues and other hygiene items can help children have accountability and practice in caring for themselves. During diapering or toileting, bath time, and other routine care activities, invite your child to help you care for them. It may take longer to let your child wash their own hands instead of doing it for them, but the reward is worth the effort.
Light cleaning is another Montessori at home practical life activity. Having a rag ready during meal times can help children independently clean their messes. Child-sized brooms, mops, and dustpans can help children imitate the chores they see their parents do. Children may also like rinsing dishes or handing them to their parents from the sink or dishwasher.
While practical life can be hugely rewarding for children, it should never be forced. Children are naturally drawn to care for themselves and contribute to their families. Forcing them to help when they’re not in the mood can do more harm than good. Instead of forcing or bribing your children to help, focus on inviting them and modeling the behaviors.
Additionally, avoid excessive praise when your child does help you. Thanking your child shows and models gratitude. But repeating phrases like “good job” may negate some of the intrinsic satisfaction children feel from accomplishing tasks on their own.
As you keep these tips in mind, completing practical life tasks together can become a richly rewarding experience for both you and your child. Your child can feel like a respected, contributing member of your household, and dreaded chores can become daily opportunities for connection and learning.