The Practical Life area of the Montessori environment has some basic goals. The activities found in this area of the classroom provide real life experiences for children. The exercises in Practical Life provide purposeful activity; develop motor control and coordination; and encourage independence, concentration, and a sense of responsibility. These activities involve both large and small muscle coordination and development, helping a child to have control over his movements.
The Practical Life exercises are organized in three main areas: care of the person, care of the environment, and grace and courtesy. The dressing frames introduce such skills as buttoning, zipping, snapping, and tying. Other activities such as hand washing, baby doll washing, and manicuring nails we also consider caring for the person. Caring for the environment includes exercises such as pouring, spooning, sweeping, cloth folding, dish washing, and taking care of animals and plants.
Exercises in grace and courtesy consist of activities such as walking, sitting, greeting others, manners (“Please,” “Thank you,” and “May I”) how to interrupt a teacher or another child (saying “Excuse me” and tapping a teacher on the shoulder and waiting for a response), passing objects, following directions, knowing how to open and close a door, shaking the Headmaster’s hand each day, and controlling their bodies through silence games. We want the children to develop refinement of social interactions, to be polite, and to learn respect for others. Grace and courtesy lessons begin with the first day of school and continue throughout the school year so they become a natural part of the environment.
The toddler environment is full of practical life lessons. Everything a young child touches is something that will help him as he gets older. We take these areas of development for granted as adults, but they are very important to a small child. When our 15 children walked into the classroom last week, they were introduced to most of these activities. My favorite part of the day was watching them carry their glass bowls to the table with their snack and being so careful not to spill (well, not too much).