The Importance of Practical Life

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.

Practical Life – Part 3

Today we’re pulling from our archives for finish out our series on Practical Life.

One important aspect of the Practical Life environment is that all the materials used are real life life objects. Maria Montessori was a great believer in the “reality” principle – objects and tasks should reflect real life, with instruments adapted to a child’s size and potentiality. The Practical Life activities are naturally interesting exercises for the child since they are activities he/she seen grown-ups do.

The sequencing for Practical Life begins with scooping and spooning, rolling and folding, twisting, squeezing, grasping and controlling, stringing and lacing, pounding and pushing, care of the self, care of the environment, grace and courtesy, and ending with food preparation. Materials are sequenced according to the following progressions: using hands to use tools, large to small, left to right, top to bottom, gross motor to fine motor, no transfer to transfer, two handed to one handed to two handed in opposition, size and shape of medium used, dry materials to liquid, simple activities to complex, few materials to many short activities to long, skills in isolation to skills in combinations.

Children benefit from all aspects of Practical Life environment. They learn the direct aims of independence, concentration, coordination, and order, as well as the indirect aims of the actual skills being practiced. Practical Life is the foundation of the Montessori classroom and enables the child to become a well-adjusted individual.

Practical Life – Part 2

Today we continue our series exploring the Practical Life area of the Montessori classroom, focusing in this post on the ways in which Practical Life skills benefit other curriculum areas. 

Many of the exercises in the Practical Life area are preparation exercises of Sensorial works. The exercises help to fine tune the development of the child’s senses. Many uses of the five senses occur in the Practical Life area: sound, sight, and touch are used in equipment-bases activities, such as bean scooping; smelling and tasting are involved in the preparation of food.

Practical Life not only develops the child’s senses and teaches real life skills, but sets the basic foundation for other areas to come. For example, understanding size, weight, and equal distribution are skills which are vital when the child is introduced to the Math area of the classroom.

Perhaps the most significant is the development of the pincer grip, which allows the child to correctly grip a pencil and begin working in the Language area.

Practical Life – Part 1

We’re pulling from our archives for this helpful series on Practical Life.

In a Montessori classroom the Practical Life area is one of the first areas that a child explores. This section of the classroom provides the child with real-life materials that help to develop coordination, concentration, independence, and order.

Through the exercises of Practical Life, the child learns the skills that enable him to become an independent being. From birth, the child is striving for independence. As concerned adults, parents, and teachers, we should help him on his path by showing him the skills he needs to achieve this end.

Having been shown a skill, the child then needs freedom to practice and to perfect. In a Montessori classroom preschool children learn basic motor skills in the Practical Life area by teaching themselves and learning from other children rather than by specific adult instruction. As the child becomes absorbed in an interesting activity  he develops concentration. If the activity is appropriate and meets a need, it will be interesting for the child. The longer the child is absorbed by an activity the better for the development of concentration.

Through activity, the child learns to control his movements. The idea that the path to intellectual development occurs through the hands is a major theme in the Montessori Method. The exercises of Practical Life provide opportunities for the development of both gross motor and fine motor movements.

In addition, the child learns to keep the environment in a clean and ordered way, putting everything away in its right place. He is taught to approach new tasks in an ordered way, to carry it out carefully, to complete the activity, and finally, how to clean up and put the materials way. Engaging in this complete process encourages logical thinking.

Concentration in the Classroom

“Children are born with an amazing capacity for learning and interacting with their parents and their peers. It is the gift of the Montessori education that a child is methodically shown the process for doing a job, moving in the classroom, or taking care of their body (eating and washing hands, putting on a jacket).

“All of this attention to ‘how’ the work is done reinforces the idea that if you slow down and pay attention to the order of the task and to the way your work is laid out, then you will get it done with more ease and in a less stressful way.


“To the untrained eye, it may not be obvious why a teacher would sit one on one with a three year old and carefully watch them transfer items from one bowl to another. Yet the grasp of the item is important (as it leads to the coordination of holding a pencil, the fundamentals of writing). The transferring of the items from left to right is also important, as it trains the young student’s eyes and mind to move in the same direction they will be using when they read words on a page.

“We are also mindful of the way the materials are handled by the student; are they engaged with the specific task at hand or are their eyes wandering away from the job to look around at their friends? Can they develop the concentration to be fully present with the task at hand? All of these core behaviors create the template for learning, not only from an academic view; but for how all information is received and processed internally. It is a lens for living their lives.” — From the P2 Blog

Teaching Confidence

“These words reveal the child’s inner needs; ‘Help me to do it alone’.” — Dr. Maria Montessori

Each child in a Montessori classroom is treated with respect and dignity and is often addressed by peers and teacher as “friend,” creating an environment of equality rather than of hierarchy. The open floor plan enables unrestricted and independent movement; instead of being forced to sit at a desk all day and ask for permission to get up to use the bathroom or sharpen a pencil, the child is able to naturally engage with his peers, teachers and the fascinating materials which surround him.

Mixed-age grouping and the three-year cycle is another hallmark of Montessori classrooms. This creates a more natural learning environment and allows the child to develop appropriate social skills. Often, older children are able to serve as mentors for younger children, modeling good behavior and teaching them new skills. This empowers the children and cements previously learned concepts, and allows them to feel that they are integral and valued members of a community. Younger children learn to engage with others rather than always relying on the teacher to tell them what to do.

By teaching primary children how to do real-world tasks like pouring water, sewing and tying their shoes, they learn to be self-reliant while increasing hand-eye coordination, concentration and focus.

April Dane, E4 Head Teacher, remarks, “Young children love to do things for themselves because they have figured out that they can — things like walking, eating and playing. It is very physical. It is that wonderful realization that inspires them. At the elementary age they begin to see that not only can they do things for themselves physically like help make meals and dress themselves, but that they can make important choices including how to accomplish their goals and when it is important to complete their work. When the children in our class start realizing they have the power and control to accomplish things, they are so excited and say ‘I finished my goals this week.’ No one can tell them that, they have to experience it.”

Maryam Khadavi, Head Teacher in P3, agrees. “All work described by Dr. Montessori in Practical Life and other areas is to help a child to find his/her independence. She always emphasized that the hand is the chief teacher of the child and by using the hands to complete different tasks, children develop independence and build self-confidence. One of the things I do in my classroom is to give each child a particular project such as greeting the visitors, organizing the classroom, cleaning after lunch and watering plants, along with setting achievable weekly goals. In addition, occasionally I offer older children to select a student from the classroom and teach them three tasks in different areas. This also helps both older and younger children to build self-confidence and social skills.”

This sense of independence extends outside of the classroom into physical education, art, outdoor classroom and more. P.E. Teacher Ms. Angela tells of how excited a young student was after mastering the proper way to hold a lacrosse stick. Says Outdoor Classroom Specialist Ms. Valerie: “We always give the children choices so they can practice independence which allows children to feel empowered. Autonomy breeds spontaneous engagement and cooperation.”

In middle school, students are able to demonstrate what they learn through creative and innovative mediums and often present their projects to their peers, which allows them to develop valuable skills such as leadership, critical thinking, initiative, teamwork, public speaking, research techniques, troubleshooting, personal responsibility, time management and more.

In addition, students of all ages are allowed time for “heart work.” Says Ms. Erica, Middle School Head Teacher: “After they complete their goals and work they can go a step further to something they find really interesting and run with it; it can be something they are learning about in class or not.”

Both Larry Page and Sergey Brin, founders of Google Inc., have publicly credited their success as entrepreneurs to their early education in a Montessori classroom. In an interview with ABC News, Google CEO Larry Page remarks “I think that [our success] was part of that training of not following rules and orders and being self-motivated and questioning what’s going in the world and doing things a little bit different.”



Primary Students Explore Space

Through the month of January, our Primary classrooms are learning about space by exploring the planets, solar system, sun and constellations.

Says P4: “The children will explore what each planet looks like and the contents that make up the different planets. There are many different works out in our Science Area which allow the children to continue to learn all about our wonderful Solar System.”

P4 students also learned a “planet song” and did a special art project involving the sun with Ms. Angela.


In the Practical Life Area, there are new works on the shelves such as shoe polishing, plant washing and wood polishing. These beautiful materials encourage independence and order while enhancing fine motor skills, focus and level of concentration.

Says P3: “It is wonderful to see the high level of concentration that the students exhibit while working with these materials.”

P3 students also worked on drawing their self-portraits. “Some of our Kindergarteners have taken on the ‘job’ of leading the other children through their self-portrait work,” P3 continues. “This helps to build on communication skills between the children and helps to make them responsible for the jobs within our classroom.”

Read more and check out lots of pics under Classroom News!

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