Bringing it home Part 2: Practical Life.

In last week’s blog I began thinking about bridging school and home for Montessori kids. This week, I’m thinking specifically about bridging the gap by considering the role of children as participants in the home. When children are given opportunities to engage in the life of the home (through helping out with food preparation, chores, repair projects, beautification, etc.) they will apply the skills that they are mastering in the classroom.

To contrast the two spaces again, it is important to note that the Montessori classroom environment has been designed so that children can constantly be autonomous and active. They can choose work, engage in it, and put it away, all without needing to ask for assistance. In the classroom, they can follow their own desire for involvement, and contribute to the space as a whole through such practical life activities as food preparation, laundry, cleaning, flower arranging, dishes, etc. Most of the practical life work is considered practical due to the fact that it is specifically related to real-life skills. These skills are best refined when practiced!

Here are some thoughts from Julia Palzer, who weighed in last week on order at home. Her three children attend the Co-op, and as you can see from reading below, she and her husband, Jeff, strive to provide opportunities for the children to be as engaged with the workings of the home as they are in the classroom.

“…we try as hard as we can to have the kids do for themselves what they can actually do. Yes, it’s quicker for Jeff or I to unload the dishwasher, but truly, all three of our children can do it, and therefore we have them take turns doing it. Or sometimes we have one do the top drawer, one the bottom drawer, and one the silverware tray.”

“It’s easier for us to pack their lunches for school, but again, all three can do it. Yes, we have to direct them here and there but they each can do it, and it gives them satisfaction in eating their lunch. When Mom or Dad pack it much of it doesn’t’ get eaten. For some reason, it tastes better to them when they know they packed it themselves. There’s that age old expression, ‘Give a child a fish and they will eat for a day. Teach a child to fish and they will never be hungry.’ Or something like that. I don’t know if our efforts to bring Montessori into our home would make Dr. Montessori truly proud, but it’s definitely a start and we’re seeing success. You can really see the satisfaction in their eyes of doing things for themselves and we really believe it builds their self-esteem.”

Children can benefit from the simple invitation to help with the housework, but may have more success if they are provided with materials that are correct for their size. Having small enough brooms, garden tools, appropriate kitchen tools, and cleaning materials can free children to care for their own environment.

Dr. Montessori herself addressed practical life elements for the classroom in her book ‘The Discovery of the Child’;
“The objects that are used for practical life have no scientific purpose. They are the objects used where a child lives and which he sees employed in his own home, but they are especially made to a size that he can use.

If the school has a garden attached to it, the care of the paths, the weeding of plants, or the gathering of ripe fruit, and so on, will make up part of a child’s practical occupations. If the daily schedule is very long, dinner will also form a part of them. Of all the exercises of practical life this is the most difficult, exacting and interesting.

It includes such things as setting the table with great care, serving the meals, eating properly, washing the cups and plates, and putting away pots and pans.”

The Discovery of the Child p 82, Chap 5

Dr. Montessori is clear that there is much instruction in demonstrating the correct movements associated with the activities being executed by the child. For them to be successful in putting away dishes, for instance, they must have been shown the correct way to do so. At home, parents must model the correct movements for the child to learn. As children refine skills they develop their independence.

See this website for some more thoughts on practical life skills:

And here is an example of a setup for carrot peeling, which includes all of the necessary items. Thinking through a process, and what would be used to complete it, is very important when setting children up for success with practical life activities!