Maria Montessori designed the Practical Life curriculum to teach children concentration, independence, and a great love for work. She discovered that children have an innate need to imitate the activities of adults, as this is their way of learning about their role within society and their environment. Thus, Practical Life exercises are designed to meet this need by providing children with the skills to move and manipulate materials independently.
The objectives of the Practical Life curriculum are based on teaching children skills that are relevant to everyday life, such as control and coordination of movement, independence, concentration, care of self, and care for the environment. Practical Life work also gives children the opportunity to develop a sense of pride in their work. Through contributions in the classroom, home, and the wider community, children learn to gain a sense of independence and satisfaction in what they have achieved. In effect, this provides children with the building blocks for positive self-esteem, and a sense of place within their society.
To achieve the greatest benefit from Practical Life Education it is essential that children understand the importance and value of an activity. For example, if the activity is watering plants, it’s important that children know that watering plants keeps them living and healthy. The skills that children learn from the Practical Life Curriculum also assist with the development of their social, mental, physical and emotional faculties. Through Practical Life Exercises, children learn to become independent and come to fully realize their potential capabilities.
The Bubble Whisking Practical Life activity can easily be completed in the home environment. Read on to see how this seemingly simple activity benefits a child’s development.
Clink, clink, clink. The sound of a whisk gently hitting the side of the glass bowl is heard across the classroom as a child focuses intently on whisking soap bubbles into a bubble frenzy. After sufficient bubbles are created, the child carefully walks the bowl of water over to a bucket, empties the water slowly, and returns to the table where he neatly dries the bowel and tray with a towel. The work is then returned to the shelf and the child moves on to the next self-chosen activity.
A visitor observing our Montessori classroom might wonder, “What is the point of this activity? Shouldn’t a child be focusing on reading and writing rather than making soap bubbles?” Practical Life activities do seem a little mysterious to the untrained eye. However, they play an important role in the development of a child in a Montessori classroom.
Consider, first, the steps a child must remember in order to do a work like whisking successfully. Recalling and executing sequences prepares a child for academic works in language and math. Next, the fine motor that the work requires of the child readies their hand for writing. Even the way that they are taught to maneuver the whisk mimics letter formation. Finally, the child develops their ability to concentrate and focus on a task. Developing their ability to concentrate prepares the mind for completing challenging academic works in the future. Beyond all of these preparations is the subliminal lesson in independence and respect for the environment that the child is receiving. Who knew a simple activity such as whisking could teach a young child so much?
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Flower arranging is a classroom Practical Life activity that can be easily completed in the home environment, and there is much more to this activity than meets the eye. The clean-up at the end provides even more Practical Life experiences for your child.
The process of flower arranging is predictably sequenced with precision and care, as are all of the Practical Life activities, to best support the development of coordination, concentration, order, and independence.
The flower arranging work has a more important indirect aim than simply admiring nature’s work of art. It is an opportunity for little hands to contribute to the beautification of the environment. It is a tender moment when a young heart lays down a symbol of friendship, love, and peace on a table for someone else to enjoy. It is a brief, yet integral step outside of oneself and one’s own needs.
Each step of this flower arranging Montessori Practical Life activity for kids (picking flowers, pouring water, cutting flowers, arranging flowers) is a practical life skill that paves the way to real learning. It seems like a fairly simply task: get some flowers, place them in a vase, right?! Not exactly…
Children exercise their fine and gross motor skills as they carry a tray, a vase, a pitcher of water, all slowly and carefully. They practice concentration as they admire the beautiful materials available and choose just the right vase and flowers, and as they select the perfect place for their arrangement, perhaps including a doily as an additional touch. They pour water through a funnel, using their skills of estimation to determine when it’s time to stop. They practice their cutting skills while again estimating, determining just how much of the stem they need to trim off to make the flower fit into the vase of their choice. Their attention to detail alerts them to any spills or drips, which they carefully wipe up with a sponge or a towel, and they practice following through with a sequence of steps. The whole activity is so engaging, so calming, so centering for the child, and it provides a rich opportunity for the adult to observe the many skills the child has perfected.
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Pin punching is a fine motor activity and is easy to do at home. Starting with a piece of construction paper, students trace around a shape or draw a simple picture. Then, using a push pin, students carefully create perforation around the shape by making small holes along the line.
The student can then gently tear out their shape. The closer together and more accurate the punching, the easier it is to remove the shape creating a built in control of error and motivation for careful work.
Visual motor coordination is developed by keeping holes close together along the line. Holding the small push pin builds strength in the hands for future fine motor development.
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Early Childhood Montessori at Home - Practical Life & Focus
The exercises in the Practical Life area reflect Montessori’s concept of “an education for life” as the child develops practical skills necessary to gain mastery over his actions and she learns to use the common objects of daily life. By engaging in real activities and using real objects with purposeful ends, the child develops real abilities, which give her independence and control of her life. It also helps the child adapt to her environment, as she must follow the social norms and culturally specific methods that govern its care. This gives the child a sense of belonging and order.
By engaging in these activities, the child learns to focus her attention for the entirety of an activity and upon completion, has a deep sense of fulfillment. Therefore, the aim of these activities is not only practical but also developmental. Through these activities, the child to develops concentration, independence, coordination of movement, inner discipline, and independence. This inevitably prepares for the physical, intellectual, cultural, and social life of the individual.
In the first children’s houses, she observed that the children, when given an option, usually preferred real activities over imaginary ones. They liked making a real contribution to the care of their environment. Though the child may be conscious of helping, she will be unconscious of the personal growth that comes about through doing an orderly and meaningful task. Dr. Montessori saw layers of benefits in a simple activity such as washing a table: adaptation to the environment and culture, refinement of gross and fine motor skills, development of mental order, concentration, self-direction, and functional independence.
toddler and Early Childhood students
For young children, open ended art provides unlimited possibilities for creativity and concentration. Rather than provide detailed instructions or coloring books, offer different mediums like watercolors, crayons, colored paper, scissors and glue. Providing small amounts of several different materials will make clean-up more manageable for children. More materials can be added if a child runs out, but too many of the materials at once can be overwhelming for not only creating, but for cleaning up as well.
Here is example of an art shelf designed for up to 9 children, so an art space at home will not require as many of each item. Small pieces of construction paper, liquid glue and paint brushes for collage, watercolors, scissors, colored pencils, and oil pastels are all separated and organized so a child can retrieve their own materials as needed and return them to their designated space.
Provide a large bowl or bucket of clean water and an empty one for a child to dispose of dirty water. The Toddler and Early Childhood classrooms all have these so a Montessori child will be accustomed to using these if there is not full access to a sink.
Kindergarten and Elementary students
For more structured art projects for older children, these are some artists that can be used to inspire new creations. In Extension Art, we begin class by observing copies of famous artworks by a single artist and discuss what we notice. Then materials are offered and the children can create their own piece how they please. Providing a print of examples or viewing them on a tablet allows children to view them as they work. Some children like to recreate pieces while others interpret the artist’s work in their own way and merely use it for inspiration. Each way is an appropriate creative outlet while still enriching their art history knowledge.
Hannah Hoch was a German artist who popularized photo-collages. For this project, provide a large piece of paper, some magazine pages, scissors and glue (liquid glue and a paintbrush will refine their motor skills further, but glue sticks will work). Keep a recycling bin near by for scraps. Whole magazines will likely overwhelm children, so providing a handful of pages is appropriate.
Discuss buildings like the Parthenon, the Pont de Gurd aqueduct, and the Colosseum and highlight the differences and similarities. Then use cardboard boxes, toilet paper rolls, or any other reusable recyclables to create a structure. Duct tape is most effective for this, so cutting some pieces and setting them out ahead of time will be easier for some. To extend this project, paint the structure.
Splatter painting, which might require more supervision, is messy and is best completed outside. For easier clean up, mix some washable paint with a little bit of dish soap. If you notice it’s not splattering much, you can add water to the paint.
Some other artists our Extension students have already studied:
- Pablo Picasso – Blue Period: mixed media collages with everything blue, colored paper collages to mimic Cubism
- Ida and Georgia O’Keefe: use rulers or colored paper for Ida’s Lighthouses, watercolors for Georgia’s flowers
- Wassily Kandinsky: colored paper shapes or using objects as stencils like cups for circles, boxes for squares
- Claude Monet: watercolor water lilies
- Georges Seurat: Q-tips bundled up with rubber bands, separate bundles for each color
- triangular prism
- rectangular prism
- triangular pyramid
- square pyramid
What are the Binomial and Trinomial Cubes?
The binomial cube, when first introduced to the child, is presented as a challenging, three-dimensional puzzle. The cube is made up of a number of colored blocks, which fit together in a specific way. Assembling it uses a child’s fine-motor skills and requires the ability to discriminate between the blocks based on multiple characteristics. Unlike Montessori’s iconic pink tower, for example, the binomial cube does not isolate only one quality. Some blocks have one color, others have two. Some blocks are cubes, while others are rectangular prisms. While the pink tower blocks vary only in size, the binomial cube’s blocks vary in color, size, and shape! This makes the binomial cube a more complex sensorial material, and it requires organized thinking to master. The binomial cube’s big brother, the trinomial cube, is a child’s more complex next step.
Like other sensorial materials, the binomial and trinomial cubes are self correcting: when properly assembled, the blocks form a cube that fits perfectly inside of its wooden box! Even if the cube is built outside of its box, visual cues alert the child to any errors they might have made.
Children return to the cubes time after time, manipulating them with a focused sense of purpose. After a child has mastered building the binomial or trinomial cube inside of the box, he may then try building it outside of the box, or building each layer separately in order to observe similarities in patterns. Over time, the child’s familiarity with the cube’s physical aspects will lead to an internalized understanding of the abstract concepts the cube represents.