Friday, September 27, 2013

Maintaining Integrity while Adding Variety to Montessori Practical Life

namc adding variety montessori practical life girl pouring water

Changing your practical life shelf work on a regular basis helps keep children interested in the activities. When determining which new activities to add, keep in mind that the goals of practical life include:

  • educating the children’s movements to be geared to a purpose
  • developing the children’s ability to concentrate on a task
  • helping the children learn to carry out a series of steps in sequence
  • helping the children learn to care for the environment
    (Angeline Lillard, Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius)

With those specific goals in mind, let’s look at the skill of transferring. What are the goals of transferring?

Adding Variety to Montessori Practical Life Shelves


  • To refine movement.
  • To gain independence.

Let’s consider the goal of refining movement. We can break each activity into manageable steps by thinking about what is involved in refining the movement necessary for transferring:

1. Developing the pincer grasp.
2. Crossing over the mid-line — right hand crosses the body to the left side and vice versa, an important part of brain development.

These are BIG skills. Montessori tells us we must isolate and refine the difficulty. We have already isolated the skill of transferring. Now we refine it. So, let’s look again at the big skill of developing the pincer grasp.

namc adding variety montessori practical life girl using pegs

Before children begin to develop the pincer grasp, they use the palmer, or whole-hand, grasp. Since we are adding the difficulty of crossing the mid-line, the first transferring activities should involve the easier whole-hand grasp. As well, they should start by working with large objects and work toward transferring smaller items. This not only refines movement, but requires the children to concentrate on the action of grasping and on transferring without spilling. The degree of difficulty also increases as the children move from transferring dry objects, such as rice, to transferring wet objects, such as water. Transferring can include moving objects from one container to another, using a utensil to transfer items, and pouring from one container to another. Here are some examples:

Transferring objects from one container to another

  • large blocks or shapes, one at a time
  • small blocks, one at a time
  • handfuls of smaller objects, such as buttons, stones, or pretty tiles
  • water using a sponge
  • water using a dishrag
  • smaller objects, such as buttons, stones, or pretty tiles, one at a time

namc adding variety montessori practical life boy using tongs

Transferring objects from one container to another, using utensils such as:

  • a ladle
  • a large serving spoon
  • a soup spoon
  • a teaspoon
  • an egg spoon
  • salad tongs
  • sugar tongs
  • tweezers
  • a turkey baster
  • an eye dropper

You can also add variety by adding in spoons not often used, such as Chinese soup spoons, jelly spoons, or grapefruit spoons. These help keep the child’s interest!

namc adding variety montessori practical life boy pouring beans

Pouring from one container to another

  • from glass to glass, cup to cup
  • Transferring from pitcher to pitcher
  • Transferring from pitcher to glass, cup
  • Transfer from pitcher to pitcher using a funnel

The use of glasses, cups, pitchers, and funnels can be used with both dry and wet items. For dry pouring, you can use items including beans, grains, sand, and sugar. Wet pouring is introduced with water, but you can use liquids with different viscosities as well, such as syrup or honey. Varying the contents also adds an element of difficulty as well as keeping interest high.
As much as possible, NAMC’s web blog reflects the Montessori curriculum as provided in its teacher training programs. We realize and respect that Montessori schools are unique and may vary their schedules and offerings in accordance with the needs of their individual communities. We hope that our readers will find our articles useful and inspiring as a contribution to the global Montessori community.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Friday, September 27, 2013.

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