In the Montessori primary classroom, the Practical Life area of the room is often the first choice for doing work, especially if a student is new to the room. The jobs in this area employ materials often found at home; such as beans, peas, cotton balls, spoons and small pitchers of water. From the untrained eye, the works seem very easy to do; and often they are. However, the underlying lessons being learned are foundational to the child’s Montessori experience. There is a process for taking the jobs to a work area, for accomplishing the task at hand and then for returning the work to its proper place on the shelf. Many steps in self control, concentration and coordination are engaged whenever a child uses the practical life materials.
Often a child is shown a work that they know they can do quickly, maybe grabbing two or three items at a time, and it is under the watchful eye of the teacher that the child is gently guided to “take one thing at a time.” It is in this slowing down that a child begins to see a pattern for doing work that is simple, clear and offers powerful results. Not only is the child setting a reliable pattern in their own mind for accomplishing the task successfully, there is a growing understanding that every task done with a “single eye” is much easier to do.
All areas of a Montessori classroom influence the habits of learning for a student; but the true foundation for learning begins in the Practical Life area. It is in this part of the classroom that the student practices their new found skills of grasping, tweezing, spooning, pouring and begins to feel at ease in doing those jobs. Not only is the child’s confidence increasing in their ability to accomplish the steps of the job, they are also being immersed in the fundamental process of looking from left to right, thus laying the pattern for pre-writing and pre-reading skills. The typical hand motion of the pincer grip used in the majority of practical life skills is a precursor for correctly holding a pencil and learning to write smoothly.
Dr. Montessori wrote in her book, The Absorbent Mind, “the first thing his education demands is the provision of an environment in which he can develop the powers given him by nature.” The Montessori classroom is a living laboratory for each student to exercise their observation skills, their ability to listen carefully to directions and most importantly to employ their own will and effort to explore the tasks at hand. She further comments, “Only through freedom and environmental experience is it practically possible for human development to occur.” The Practical Life area of the classroom is a key component for creating such an environment.