RE-PURPOSING PRACTICAL LIFE FOR THE HOME: Or Get your kids out from under your feet
Updated: Sep 17, 2020
Practical Life is a big part of Montessori. The thing is, practical life can easily be done in the home. I mean, of all the Montessori things you can do, this one is the best. Practical Life is just that – being practical about life. You can easily set your home up for the independence, concentration and co-ordination that happens through these lovely activities. Let me unpack the key elements for you so you can think about how you can implement them. There are four simple parts:
1. Care of Self.
2. Care of the environment
3. Control of movement
4. Grace and courtesy
1. Care of self. Young children are really learning this and it encompasses everything from brushing their own hair, to dressing themselves, to toilet learning and tying their shoes. The thing is, young children are really excited to learn how to do these things for themselves – so teach them. Take the time to make some goals in this area: maybe its to do your hair in a ponytail or a braid, or tie shoes, or button up your shirt by yourself. Give them time – you have lots of it at the moment – to teach them some skills step by step.
2. Care of the Environment. This is the biggest part of practical life for us at school. First, it involves cleaning. Make a cleaning caddy for your child that has a small spray bottle with some water and dish soap in it (I also add some essential oils for a nice smell), a sponge, and a towel. Let your child wipe down tables, dust the living room, clean the bathroom – they’ll love it. They also love cleaning the windows with a small spray bottle of window cleaner (diluted – I’d use a natural spray rather than windex which has ammonia in it and not very safe) and a clean towel and they’ll happily spray and wipe for a long long time. They can fold clothes or towels for you. Let them sweep the floor – even mop the floor. They also will love to gently wipe the leaves of your houseplants with a cotton ball and water. You can and should always solicit their help in cleaning up the messes they make because you teach them a very important lesson and that it - mom doesn't always clean up my messes. If you fast forward that lesson to when they are say, 20 or 30...then you can see how it might play out.
This also is the place where you see children practicing using kitchen tools like spoons, tongs – you can even set them small tasks on trays like we do at school but its not necessary for them to practice these skills in the home. They can wash dishes – just provide a step stool to get up to the sink. They love scrubbing the floor. Give them a duster and let them dust the furniture. Not only will this keep them busy, it teaches them that they can be responsible for their home environment - another important life skill.
3. Control of movement. Does you child tear around the house like a wild thing? Well, this area of practical life might help you. Find a place to put a tape line on the ground (masking tape is fine as long as it doesn’t stay there too long) and have your child practice walking along it – its fun to carry things on a tray, on your head, whatever. Try walking backwards, sideways, skipping, hopping, dancing...the line is great for practicing some controlled movement.
4. Grace and Courtesy. This encompasses actively teaching your child manners - something that can be done at every meal. Grace and courtesy shows respect so it may encompass teaching the children that the work space is not a play space or the living space is not a work space. This way everyone feels like they are important and respect teaches that.
Practical Life compasses many lovely skills that even preschoolers can do if they are taught patiently step by step (that’s a key point so I hope you don’t miss it). Baking, sewing, using simple tools are all able to be taught to preschoolers if they are simple enough projects. I’ll be adding some videos to the blog to help you with these.
Another huge area of practical life is meal prep. They will love to get involved in your work. Give them small tasks to do – chopping vegetables (with a blunt knife), or stirring things, spreading, setting the table and of course bussing the table and cleaning dishes (yes a young child can certainly load a dishwasher).
Your child doesn’t need to be under your feet all day. Your child doesn’t need to be sitting in front of a screen while you spend your days cleaning up after them. Involve your child in those everyday parts of family life and life can be richer and more meaningful for both of you.