Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Montessori Practical Life Activities, In the Classroom and at Home

NAMC montessori practical life activities home classroom boy washing hands
"Any child who is self-sufficient, who can tie his shoes, dress or undress himself, reflects in his joy and sense of achievement the image of human dignity, which is derived from a sense of independence.”
- Maria Montessori

Success in life is directly correlated to the degree in which people believe they are capable as well as independent. And how do we learn to be capable and independent? We practice the skills that are necessary until we no longer need help and can act and do accordingly.

Allowing children to gain independence and self-discipline is the purpose of the Practical Life activities in the Montessori classroom and at home. I say “home” because Practical Life activities have the purpose of allowing students to gain independence and self-discipline. These skills cannot be practiced only at school. What happens when a child is allowed to prepare their own snack, slice their own apples, pour their own drink, and wash and dry their own dishes in the Montessori classroom, but at home is told “Oh, you’re much too young to use a knife. You will spill that if you pour it. Let me do it for you”? The mixed message is clear.

The skills that are being taught at school are not allowed at home, thus creating a dichotomy in the child’s thinking: I am capable and independent at school, but at home I am not. Later, when Montessori teachers comment about how independent a child is, how he enjoys taking care of his environment and keeps his work area neat and tidy, the parents shake their heads and wonder why these skills are not being demonstrated at home. The answer is clear; the well-meaning and loving parents have done for the child what he is clearly able to do himself.

Montessori Practical Life Activities, In the Classroom and at Home

Practical Life activities are the traditional works of the family and home. They can be broken down into four categories:

1. Preliminary activities – carrying a tray, pouring water, spooning grain, walking on the line, etc.

2. Care of the environment – cleaning, sweeping, dusting, gardening, raking, polishing.

NAMC montessori practical life activities home classroom girl brushing teeth
3. Care of self – dressing, toileting, brushing teeth, bathing, combing hair, preparing food, setting the table.

4. Grace and courtesy – using table manners, greeting others, saying “please” and “thank you”, learning to control one’s own body.

Each activity is carefully analyzed and broken down into successive steps so that the child may practise each step repeatedly until he has mastered the skill. Adults must model these activities, not just the mechanics of the process, but also the joy that is to be found in a job well done. If the adults lack enthusiasm, the child will learn that it is not a worthwhile task and will not want to continue. We can delight together in dishes that are clean and ready for use at our next meal or in a well-set table.

So, what can be done to extend the Practical Life activities in the home? First off, make sure that the materials you use are child-size. Why is this important? Well, I think about it this way. As an adult, I have several paring knives that I have bought or received over the years. My favorite, however, is the very first one I ever received, even though the tip is broken off and the blade is wobbly. Why is it my favorite? Because it fits my hands just right. The other ones just don’t “feel” right to me. This is the difference between a child learning how to work using materials that fit her just right and trying to adapt an adult-size tool to a child-size body.

Remember that Practical Life activities are the routines and rituals that adults perform daily in order to maintain their environment. Here are a few examples of how to invite your child to continue these valuable Practical Life lessons at home:

Preliminary Activities
  • Pouring and transferring liquids and dry ingredients without spilling
  • Using scissors
  • Opening and closing lids
  • Screwing and unscrewing jar lids
  • Stirring
Care of the Environment
  • Wringing a wet cloth
  • Washing a table or counter top
  • Sweeping the floor with a broom and dustpan
  • Mopping the floor
  • Vacuuming
  • Polishing silver or brass
  • Polishing wood furniture
  • Polishing shoes
  • Sorting laundry by color
  • Matching socks
  • NAMC montessori practical life activities home classroom girl watering plants
  • Folding towels and wash cloths
  • Folding napkins
  • Ironing handkerchiefs or pillowcases
  • Sewing on buttons
  • Washing dishes: pots and pans; plastic-ware; silver (flat) ware; glasses; plates
  • Watering and caring for houseplants
  • Flower arranging
  • Caring for pets
  • Cleaning up spills
  • Putting materials and toys away
  • Sorting recycling materials
Care of Self
  • Washing hands
  • Washing face
  • Washing hair
  • Blowing nose and properly throwing away the tissue
  • Sneezing
  • Brushing teeth
  • Combing hair
  • Trimming fingernails
  • Running water in the bath
  • Hanging up towels after use
  • Dressing oneself (including learning how to button, zip, snap, tie, buckle, Velcro)
  • Putting on a jacket
  • Hanging a jacket on a low hook
  • Putting clean clothes in a drawer
  • Measuring liquid and dry ingredients
  • Peeling fruits and vegetables
  • Using kitchen tools (fork, spoon, grater, blunt knife, ice cream scoop, bulb baster, peeler, chopping board, rolling pin, whisk, pitcher, cookie cutters, melon baller, apple corer, etc.)
  • Spreading (like butter, peanut butter, a mixture)
Grace and Courtesy
  • How to greet someone
  • How to answer the telephone
  • How get up from the table
  • How to carry a chair properly
  • How to open and shut a door quietly
  • How to interrupt when necessary
  • How to excuse oneself when passing or bumping into another
  • How to hand someone something
  • Table manners
  • Carrying objects without dropping or spilling
  • Walking without bumping objects or people
When we remember to present these activities with enthusiasm and break them down into sequential steps, a child will feel encouraged as he practices them independently. We must remember that “Adults work to finish a task, but the child works in order to grow and is working to create the adult, the person that is to be.” (Montessori) As adults, we work to finish tasks efficiently and quickly so as to move on to the next task at hand. A child, however, is working to master the activity. He will practice repeatedly to perfect his abilities and then, may turn his attention elsewhere.

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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 Tuesday, July 8, 2008.


  1. Great blog.Very interesting and useful.I have 4 small children, 2 of whom were in a Montessori nursery school(kindergarten?) in South Africa. We have recently moved to
    Israel and they are in a regular nursery school here. I am keen for ideas and tips on how to maximise useful tasks they can do at home. Keep writing!

    ps i am interested in doing the Montessori Traiing one day, are you doing it?

  2. Thank you for you kind comments. I completed my Montessori 3-6 training through the NAMC program and fell in love with the Montessori method. My son, age 12, has attended Montessori schools from the time he was five years old. I encourage you to find out more about the Montessori training by going to info@montessoritraining.net.

    Take care,


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