Welcome! I’m glad you’re here today!
I have been posting on how to make the Montessori Method work in your homeschool, especially emphasizing the preschool years. You can find the first two posts here:
Montessori works are divided into five basic categories: Practical Life, Sensorial, Mathematics, Language and Cultural (including science, geography, art and music). Today I will be providing ideas and resources for Practical Life activities.
The purpose of Practical Life activities is to allow the child to perform day to day tasks for living in an intentional and successful way. Children want to participate in meaningful ways in the ordering and caring for themselves and their environment and should be given the opportunity to learn life skills with real, functional, and even breakable materials. Practical Life activities include tasks such as pouring, cleaning, scrubbing, transferring, carrying, opening and closing, dressing themselves, focusing attention, walking carefully and with coordination and purpose, and basic hygiene.
Creating aesthetically-pleasing Practical Life works has always been one of my favorite things to do. If we truly think about all of the basic skills we use on a regular basis in living our day to day lives, and then consider how young children need to observe and then practice these skills in order to achieve their own mastery, we can understand the benefits of an intentional use of isolated activities in our homeschool. As moms and dads, we have unlimited opportunities to teach and model these skills outside of “school time” as well; making time to share these experiences with our children is an important part of our interaction with them. In a Montessori environment, the teacher/parent demonstrates each activity carefully and deliberately, emphasizing each small step without being wordy, and then lets the child explore the work on his own.
“When we do something for a child that he can do himself, we become a burden.”
Here are a number of ideas for practical life activities. The list is by no means exhaustive, but does give a good example of the vast array of choices we have for our kids to practice these skills:
Pouring water with a funnel (and cleaning up his mess too!)
- pouring beads using small glass bottles
- pouring colored water using small jars
- pouring sand or salt
- pouring confetti
- pouring rocks or mini shells
- pouring using a funnel
Transferring with tongs
Transferring with a spoon
Using an eye dropper with colored water
Transferring with tongs
Transferring water with a baster
Transferring plastic rings with a clothespin
- transferring pompoms with tweezers from bowl to bowl
- transferring beads using a spoon and ice cube tray
- transferring using tongs
- transferring using chopsticks
- transferring water using a dropper
- transferring water using a baster
- transferring using a clothespin
- transferring water using a sponge
Symmetry cutting work
- tweezing kernels from a dried ear of corn
- arranging silk flowers in a small vase
- rolling cloth napkins and applying napkin rings
- hole punching with colorful paper
- sorting and folding socks
- sorting buttons, shells, beans, etc. by color, size, type, number of holes, etc.
- hanging laundry with clothespins
- using a padlock and key
- opening and closing different types of bags and jars
- opening and closing twist-off bottles
- screwdriver and screws
- hammering golf tees into a pumpkin
- cutting (there are many levels of this skill, begin by cutting an index card into small strips)
- sewing buttons (for older children)
- using a crumb brush and tin on a tray
- polishing silverware
- stringing beads
- buttoning with a felt button snake
- assembling a flashlight
- using nesting dolls (matryoshka dolls)
- slicing apples
- using a whisk in a bowl of water with a couple of drops of dish soap
- peeling carrots
- washing dishes
- washing potatoes with a potato scrubber
- using cookie cutters with playdough
- setting table (make a template on a place mat with a sharpie and use child-sized plate, cup, utensils, etc.)
- walking the line (use masking tape to make a large oval on your floor and have each child practice walking on it silently and deliberately)
- silence game (my version of this has me asking the children to go do a task quietly and then come back to our circle- ex. “Go to the stairs, go to the third step, count to 5, come back down and crawl to your spot.” I’m always amazed how even the youngest child who understands direction will be so careful and quiet with this game!)
All works should be cleanly and attractively presented, and should use real materials in a size small enough for little hands. I always try out the works myself first to see if there might be any frustrating elements that I can eliminate. I am sometimes surprised at how hard a certain style of tongs is to use accurately, for example. The key is to allow your child to achieve success and gain confidence in her own abilities.
You can find tons of Practical Life materials (trays, small glass jars, bowls, tongs, spoons, etc.) at Montessori Services. They are very reasonably priced. I also find many supplies at dollar stores, crafts stores, or the dollar bins at Target. Be creative!
An email from a reader says,
“Hi, I’d like to find out more about organising space for the Montessori style method. I don’t have a separate school space and will be using my living room to home school. I was wondering how to organise the whole thing, should I just put “school” stuff on the shelves or all of my sons stuff like Lego, cars etc? Or would it even be better to do the schooling in his room so he has all the toys there too?”
“What if you were to have work “areas” in both rooms? I would keep the school area separate from the toys, but they don’t have to be in different rooms. Even in our school room, we have shelves of works and shelves of toys and games. The toys and games are mostly educational, though, so sometimes I let them build with Lincoln Logs, or play with dominoes, as part of their school choices.
You can get a small 2 or 3 shelf bookcase for each room, if you can find space for them. Each one could then fit 4-6 work trays that you could rotate every week or two. Make it an attractive space with maybe a scented candle used only for school time, or a pot of potpourri and some flowers. The more attractive the space, the more likely your children are to see it as a special experience.
You could have different categories of works in each room, or switch them around depending on your week. I’ll be posting lots of specific ideas for works in each category the rest of this week and into next week. I’ll also be posting next week on where to get materials and resources and ideas on how to store them.”
If there are any more questions throughout the next week and a half, I’d love to help if I can. Email me, or leave a comment and I will get back with you.
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