As a Montessori teacher, the Practical Life area is one of my favorite areas to set up. It is the least standardized area of the curriculum, so it allows for a lot of creativity on the part of the teacher to develop new activities.
Today I spent about 3 hours in the classroom. I put out most of the Sensorial materials (more about Sensorial in a future post), and got a good start on the Practical Life activities I want to have out when school begins this fall. (I do realize that school doesn't start for me until near the end of August; however, it makes me feel settled to get everything situated right now. I know I will have to go back and dust shelves later this summer.)
The Practical Life curriculum is unique to a Montessori classroom. Traditional preschool classrooms would typically have a housekeeping area that would be the most similar to the Montessori Practical Life area. However, there are several critical differences. In a Montessori classroom, children use real materials, not pretend. For example, real glass pitchers and vessels are used for pouring activities. Real cutting utensils, spoons, and spreaders are used to prepare actual food to be shared with a friend. Maria Montessori, through extensive observation, noted that when given the choice, children would prefer to do real life activities just like the ones adults do. Therefore, the Practical Life area allows them to develop independence with activities that prepare them directly or indirectly for real life tasks such as care of self, care of the environment, and other life skills. It is no wonder that this area is one of the most popular in a Montessori classroom. Children truly love to do things by themselves, and this area (as well as every other area in the classroom) is specially designed to help them achieve that goal.
I will write more about this important area of the curriculum in future posts. Following are photos of some of the Practical Life activities I put on the shelves today along with a narrative. I have tried to explain my purpose for each activity and the thought process I used in preparing it. It is important to point out here that a lot of careful planning and preparation go into everything that is placed on a shelf in a Montessori classroom. Attention to detail is extremely important. A Montessori teacher always keeps in mind that the activity should contain what is called a "point of interest." This can be any aspect of the activity that will draw children to it through their sensory perceptions. I will try to explain this concept relative to each of the activities I have photographed.
This is a basic transfer/spooning activity. The direct goal or "aim" as it is referred to in Montessori terminology is learning to transfer using a spoon. A major point of interest is the unique shape and design of the bowls as well as the colorful popcorn kernels. The shape and size of the spoon are also appealing to young children. I took special care in my choice of tray color and bowls. Think about how this activity would have been more or less inviting had I used 2 bowls with the same color leaves, or if the color of the leaves on the bowls matched the color of the tray. My choice here was very intentional and was achieved through trial and error until I found a combination that was (in my opinion) the most inviting to young children.
Here is another transfer activity. The points of interest are the pattern of the tray and the feel and shape of the glass pebbles. The photo does not show this well, but the two bowls are actually made of metal and are a lovely shade of purple. So, another point of interest is the color of the bowls as well as the sound that will result from the glass pebbles clinking against the metal bowls. Think about how this activity would have been more or less appealing had I used rubber erasers, plastic bowls, or a plain plastic tray. Again, every aspect of this material was intentional.
Here is another transfer activity using tongs instead of a spoon. The tongs will be a point of interest for young children as many of them have not had many opportunities to use tongs. Other interesting aspects of this work are the texture and colors of the "porcupine balls" and the shape and color of the yellow tray. As I mentioned before, attention to detail is important. Although you cannot see it in the photo, I intentionally put three each of four different colors of porcupine balls in the bowl. By doing this, I have added another level of challenge and discovery to the activity by making it possible for the child to sort the balls into colors row by row. What if I had used a yellow tray to hold the materials and a yellow bowl for the balls? How would that change the interest level? Something to consider........
Another transfer activity using tongs. Obvious points of interest are the beautiful colored glass marbles and the bear-shaped suction mat. The dish holding the marbles is made of green glass, so another point of interest will be the sound of the glass marbles dropping into the glass dish. I originally had the marbles in a silver wire container that was square shaped. However, I was much happier once I found the round green dish. I made sure to count the marbles so there are exactly enough to fill every suction cup on the mat. That is why there are 2 white marbles. The original little bag of colored marbles I found was two marbles shy of having enough.
I love this activity. It is a "sweeping" activity. The child removes the bowl of colored popcorn and the dustpan and brush from the tray, pours the popcorn onto the tray, sweeps it into the taped rectangle, transfers it to the dustpan, then pours it back into the bowl. The whole process is a major point of interest. This activity also illustrates another important Montessori concept: control of error. Most, if not all, activities in a Montessori classroom have a built-in control of error. This is any aspect of the activity that makes it possible for the child to complete the task without adult help. In other words, control of error is what is built into the activity to tell the child if they have been successful or not. In the sweeping activity, the taped rectangle is a control of error. The child can easily see if they have swept all the kernels into a pile using the visual cue the tape provides.
An important note here: always test your activities to be sure the utensils/tools/containers are appropriate for what you want the child to accomplish. I originally had the colored popcorn in a smaller round wooden bowl. When practicing the work, I successfully swept the popcorn into the dustpan, but when I went to pour it back into the little bowl, lots of it spilled back onto the tray because the dustpan was much wider than the bowl. Therefore (after practicing again), I switched to the larger bowl and alleviated this problem.
WOW! This is a long post. I hope it has been fun to read, however. I will be posting more Practical Life activities over the next few days as I get that area set up.