Practical Life work can play an instrumental role in the development of the child’s life skills. As Maria Montessori outlined, “It follows that the child can only develop fully by means of experience on his environment” (Maria Montessori The Absorbent Mind, 88) We can provide an environment that offers these experiences in a way which is approachable and accounts for growth and progression of experiences. In practical life, everything will have a specific aim. There are four developmental aims for Practical Life activity. These aims are order, concentration, coordination, and independence. Some work areas of practical life include care of self, care of environment, life skills, food preparation, and social relations.
The broad goal of Practical Life work, is to develop the child’s independence. As Maria Montessori found, “man achieves his independence by making efforts. To be able to do a thing without any help from others: this is independence. If it exists, the child can progress rapidly; if it does not, his progress will be slow. With these ideas in mind, we can see how the child must be treated: they give us a useful guide in our handling of him. Although our natural inclinations are all toward helping him with his endeavors, this philosophy teaches us never to give more help than is absolutely necessary.” (Maria Montessori The Absorbent Mind,155) This approach can be taken in all areas in the classroom and lends itself to encouraging the same at home. As children become more comfortable with practical life work in the classroom, they can transfer that to the home quickly, especially if accommodations are made for them in the home.
The environment needs a defined order, in Care of Self, we encourage the appreciation of cleanliness and neatness. We offer work that encourages learning the sequence of steps that lead to success while fostering care of the environment with practices of care and respect. This can allow us to build a sense of community through stewardship in the environment. This sense of order ties into Practical Life work as children experience cause and effect. Development of orderly thinking is done by developing correspondence of objects, visual discrimination, as well as completion of the work cycle, through the steps of beginning, working, and finishing the work. For example, we can see this sense of order in food preparation work, cleanliness, and the order that comes with social eating. Social relations in grace and courtesy can foster a caring attitude and develop respect as well as patience.
Practical Life activities need to foster concentration. In Care of Self, this is natural as the child’s own interest in doing things themselves is nurtured. As the child engages in Care of the Environment, their natural urge to move in and act on the environment is fostered in an environment that allows them to concentrate. This concentration allows them to use their natural interest in refining their motor skills and exerting muscular effort. As they develop Practical Life skills, their concentration is engaged as they try using familiar objects (typically from home), as well as work designed to engage concentration. With effective Practical Life work available, the child is encouraged to actively explore the materials, and because their concentration is engaged, more intricate and challenging work can be introduced as their desire for discovery blossoms. For example, more and more complex Food Preparation work can be introduced as appropriate, this is a great area to build concentration because of the child’s natural interest in food and eating which makes it an ideal environment for introducing longer, and more complex sequences that call for concentration. For example, we could have a cutting work where the child cuts a banana, plates the pieces of banana, and takes it to the table to eat.
As the child learns Coordination in Care of Self, they have many opportunities to develop fine motor skills while they develop important daily skills as well as a sense of self in space. As this expands into Care of the Environment, we see continued development of fine and gross motor skills. Practical Life work, in general, engages the child’s development of eye, hand, and fine muscle coordination. It also fosters understanding of how objects coordinate in the world, how they intersect. Food preparation, for example offers a great opportunity to introduce the use of various tools. In Grace and Courtesy, coordination is fostered as physical self-control and awareness of space are learned during interaction with others.
A child’s independence can be fostered as they engage in Care of Self work. Confidence is developed as the child becomes more independent of adults, and builds self-image. As a child chooses work in Care of Environment, this independence is exercised building a sense of self and confidence as they experience the joys of independent activity. As Practical Life skills are learned reasoning, power, and judgment skills are developed. These can help prepare the child for success in other areas of the classroom as well as life. Understanding of independence builds understanding of personal power and deeper respect for others. It fosters respect of limits, improved listening skills, and understanding.
Practical Life provides the experiences that foster the child’s independence while building foundations for development of their attitudes and dispositions. The work provided gives the child a sense of accomplishment from the use of meaningful work that provides them with results they can see. These results fulfill the aims of developing senses of order, concentration, coordination, and independence. We strive to provide an environment that encourages these developmental aims.