Updated: Mar 5, 2020
A young child is developing independence from the moment of birth. At just a couple months old, an infant attempts to gain mobility, and with time, transitions from crawling to walking, to running! You may see your child desiring to want to do things independently already, such as putting on shoes, or brushing teeth, or setting the table.
Maria Montessori understood the importance of developing independence in a child, as it creates a foundation for the child to begin the learning process and develop his intelligence. She found it most effective to teach these foundations through the framework of the real world, by bringing tools and objects that would be familiar to them from home life, into the classroom.
Through the use of everyday household materials, the practical life area creates a rich environment of materials to allow children to experience the world around them.
The practical life materials can be separated into several categories that focus on grace and courtesy, fundamental skills, care of the self, care of the environment, and control of movement. Each of these areas aim to teach the child different skills that develop their independence, provide the child with purpose, and increase their self-confidence.
The materials serve not only to give the child a greater sense of belonging and value, but also to build foundational skills such as order (organization and consistency), coordination (development of large and small motor skills), independence (increased self-efficacy and confidence), and concentration (ability to keep attention).
The practical life activities engage the child with meaningful work that satisfies their desire to be independent and find purpose in what they do. The child first learns to be independent in simple tasks such as putting on his shoes/jacket, washing his hands, sweeping crumbs, opening the door, rolling a mat or holding a tray. These tasks are simple in nature, but give the child purpose and a sense of pride and ownership in being self-sufficient.
The child begins to develop an understanding of how to take care of himself as well as his environment. With the addition of lessons of grace and courtesy and control of movement, the child also begins to develop a concept for cultural behaviors and etiquette. The child experiences greater control of his body through exercises such as walking on a line, or practicing patience restraint in sponging as the child waits and watches each drop fall from the sponge, before beginning to transfer. By giving order to his movements, the child begins to be disciplined, and move towards the path of what Montessori termed “normalization”.
The child is slowly developing in the prepared environment until he reaches a point where he can be fully functioning in independence and obedience—fully normalized. The Montessori prepared environment facilitates the child’s development in order to release the full potential of the child.