At the start of the school year, teachers focus on presenting new lessons in practical life, which is the core area of the Montessori curriculum. This is the area where children first develop concentration, coordination, order, self-confidence, independence, and a sense of responsibility. These skills are the foundation for the child’s continuing exploration of his environment. The skill he gains from doing these activities prepares him for all future learning.
Children have an innate need to move because movement is the way in which they learn. Thought grows out of activities and knowledge is constructed through experience. Elementary movement is developed through working everyday tasks. The practical life exercises are carefully constructed to attract the child to progressively more complex movement.
For infants, practical life exercises allow their participation in caring for themselves by self-feeding, diapering and toileting, wiping the nose, dressing, and washing hands. When spoon-feeding a child at 5-9 months old, we allow the child to hold one spoon and the adult another, so they can attempt to feed themselves. Around 9-12 months, the pincer grasp develops. In order to strengthen this movement, we provide small bits of finger food they can pick up and bring to their mouth independently. We introduce drinking from a cup for children weaning from the bottle.
Children in the toddler and pre-primary classes practice practical life lessons beginning with snack preparation and care of the environment with presentations on peeling and cutting bananas, pouring from a small pitcher, wiping a spill, watering a plant, and focusing in on putting objects away in the proper place, among many other activities this area has to offer the child. Ultimately, what makes the exercises of practical life irresistible to the child is the pleasure of exercising their will, the part of us which chooses and acts on a motive. When the child intends an action, then completes it, the result is not only practical completion of a task, but the joy of discovering one’s own ability to act on the environment.