The What and Why of Practical Life Exercises

practical-life-shawnigan-lake-montessori-001The exercises in Practical Life are the very heart of Montessori education. As young children wash tables, pour liquids, polish silver, sweep and dust, they are developing calmness, order, concentration, coordination, as well as expanding their fine motor skills. At the same time, through the process of learning to meet their own needs, learning to take care of the classroom environment, and through the experience of helping others, children in Montessori programs begin to develop independence, self-confidence, and self-respect.

practical-life-shawnigan-lake-montessori-0012Having watched adults in their environment performing these activities children want to carry them out too.  In the Montessori prepared environment, using tools of the right proportions, children can efficiently and effectively perform these tasks.  All exercises must be real and not make believe, and they must always be available for the child to use.  Tools not toys.  The child is introduced to very simple activities at first, such as how to carry a chair, to roll a work mat, to wash their hands etc., only gradually becoming more complex.  The activities must reflect the child’s interest and teach her new life skills.



Adults perform these activities to improve the environment, a child does them to improve herself in response to some inner need, it is a process of inner development.  Adults do the task once, the quickest and most efficient way, a child will repeat them over and over again, with no short cuts.  She is interested in the process, rather than the end result, and in the acquisition of the skill.  The child needs to complete the whole activity from start to finish. The freedom to repeat exercises at will, to practice, leads the child to success.


By the acquisition of new skills the child improves hand-eye co-ordination and dexterity and develops spatial awareness.  She refines gross and fine motor skills, mental development is aided by satisfying her inner need to grow in self-knowledge and confidence, whilst her self-image improves.  The need for order is also satisfied and the child learns about the enjoyment one gets from work completed.  His concentration is developed and ultimately through his independence he will gain mastery of the self.



Why does Montessori support a 3 hour work cycle

Three hour work cycyle

Montessori schools are often called the Children’s House because everything in them is designed to allow the child to become physically independent; the materials are child sized and the equipment is laid out in an orderly fashion on low shelves that are easily accessible for the children. The equipment is beautiful and well cared for, which encourages the children to take care of it too. Children between the ages of approximately two and a half and six are grouped together in their own mini society. The youngest learn from watching the older children and the older ones benefit by helping those younger than them. The mixed age group allows the children to naturally develop socially, intellectually and emotionally. Continue reading

How A Simple Morning Handshake, Can Impact Your Young Child’s Day.

Consider, for a moment, the start of each school day to be a new beginning. Each morning is a clean slate. Each action you choose can potentially have a powerful and meaningful impact on the day.

Punctuality is a good place to begin; it opens up endless avenues for growth and learning.

When a child consistently arrives at school on time, she/he benefits from the following opportunities:

  • To be greeted by the teacher with a handshake and a few words.  This simple ritual and personal contact offers the safe and caring transfer of the child from parent to teacher, opening up the opportunity to form attachments and develop new relationships.
  • To socialize with peers in the cubby area at arrival time. The sharing of stories from home and the weekend builds communication skills and fosters friendships.
  • To get ready by her/himself, including removing and hanging up outdoor clothes and putting on indoor shoes. The children offer each other help and teach their skills in zipping, buttoning, lacing, etc. The independence and cooperation shared as a group empowers the children.
  • To transition successfully from home to the classroom environment. Children possess great empathy and are able to console one another on a direct personal level. It might be a simple gesture of one child offering a kind word to another child who is sad, or an invitation by an older child to work with a new student.
  • To concentrate and focus on the work with the materials. Children who enter the classroom alongside their peers are more likely to engage and interact in a calm and natural manner, more at ease and confident with their school activities.

Each new day at a Montessori school begins with a ritual unique to the educational method:

The teacher sits on her stool at the school door and greets each child with a handshake, eye contact and a few words. It is a brief exchange of pleasantries during which the teacher might ask a question about the child’s weekend, or pay a compliment on a new haircut. The children gradually transition from the cubby area to the classroom and begin their day by choosing their first work.

To the casual observer, the morning greeting between teacher and child can appear a mere formality. For the educator, there is another important objective: To collect the child. The goal is to make a connection in a friendly way by attracting the child’s eyes, evoking a smile, and, if possible, eliciting a nod. This is the first step in bridging the separation from family. There can now be a transfer of relationship from the parent to the teacher. The child can begin to trust and feel safe in a new environment.

In Hold On to Your Kids, Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Maté discuss the importance of the attachment ritual. They refer to it as the “collecting dance,” a name borrowed from the ancient dance of many cultures that is used to connect people with those they care about. Today, it has become necessary to take this intuitive process to a conscious level as the need for engaging children’s primitive attachment instincts becomes critical in our modern society.

A primary natural instinct of human survival for humans, both young and old, is to resist and be wary of someone who is a stranger to them. A small and vulnerable child will therefore not engage in the learning process until she experiences feelings of emotional and physical security. It becomes imperative then, that an environment of trust, respect, balance and equality is established.

For the Montessori educator, the morning greeting and handshake is an important first step toward this fostering of a safe and secure relationship with her student.  This is when the learning process can begin to take place.

How Independence builds self-worth, motivation, and competence

In the Montessori classroom, independence is an integral part of the day-to-day program. Each morning the cubby area hums with activity as the children get ready for school. It takes practice and persistence to get in and out of coats and shoes. Often a five-year-old, who is ready in a flash, will linger and chat and help a new three-year-old classmate tug at a zipper that won’t go up. In the rush to catch up to friends, the floor might be left with boots and bags strewn about, but it isn’t long before one of the four-year-olds notices and puts everything in order.

Theirs is a classroom that is designed to invite children to take ownership and interest in its use, care and maintenance. Child-sized tables, chairs, shelves and learning materials all promote and stimulate independence. Small hands feel at ease and able to manipulate tools that are made just the right size. It is fun to sweep with the small broom and dustpan – so much fun that sometimes spills happen just for the pure pleasure. Continue reading

Foster independence in your child

four-seasons-montessori-fostering-independenceIt is sometimes difficult to allow your child to make the mistakes it takes to master a task at hand. All too often it is more work to clean up after your child has “helped” rather than just doing the task yourself. However, it is important to do your best to let your child try and complete any activity they are engaged in. Children have the will; it’s just the skill that’s needs improvement.  By disrupting your child’s work you may inadvertently give them the signal that they are not good enough. Positive self esteem and independent thought are nurtured by positive experiences to actions in the child’s world.   Continue reading