“The hand is the pathway to the brain.”
If you walk into a Montessori classroom, you may notice children as young as 1 year old practicing cleaning windows, setting the table for lunch, making a pizza bagel or PB&J sandwich, watering plants, folding towels, or any other number of real life activities. The exercises of Practical Life provide the foundation for everything else that happens in the classroom. The child observes activities in the classroom environment or at home and learns through real experience how to accomplish skills in a purposeful way. Montessori believed that Practical Life activities contributed to the control and coordination of movement, development of concentration, and self-esteem. Coming form personal experience, nothing gives my child more pleasure than cleaning up after himself (really) or preparing his own food.
The most difficult aspect of Practical Life (in my opinion) comes from the part of the adult. It is hard to remember that children want to emulate you all of the time. I catch myself tossing a pillow onto the bed in a quick attempt to make it, and then wanting to smack myself when my toddler throws something across the room. He watched me do it, and doesn’t understand when it is okay and when it is not. So it is with Practical Life. Have you ever paid attention to how you set the table? Or folded laundry? Or made a pizza? Your children do, and they will follow the steps you take. Lick the spoon while making batter? You can bet your child will too. This is why it is so important to carefully prepare your mind before introducing a new lesson to the child – Montessori guides are true heroes. Their intentionality in every aspect of presentation to the children is beyond impressive.
Young children seem most attracted to Practical Life areas of the Montessori classroom. It is the first step in their quest for independence, and is usually met with immense pride as they master the various skills in this area of the classroom. Montessori wrote that Practical Life work was whole child education, focusing on spiritual, intellectual, emotional, physical and social development.
“What the hand does, the mind remembers.”