PRACTICAL practical life

So, I mentioned a few weeks ago that I have become enamored with Montessori education. It started because it fit so well with my vision of what early childhood should be like–into the TJEd vision of Core Phase. The Core Phase curriculum should be right/wrong, good/bad, true/false, relationships with God and family–all experienced and internalized through work and play. Montessori taught that children need excercises in “practical life.” Things like dressing themselves, preparing food, cleaning, caring for their bodies, gardening, caring for pets…the list goes on. It creates self worth, confidence and independence. It is real work. Just what Core Phasers need. Child sized tools are essential so that little hands and bodies can easily master this work of everyday life.

In my reading, though, I read about all the modern Montessori excersizes of practical life: using spoons and tongs to transfer beads or pom-poms from one bowl to another, pouring activities, using bulb basters and eye droppers. I started feeling like I was short changing my kids by not having a array of handy gadgets. In my reasearch of the minute details of how Montessori philosophy is applied in modern Montessori schools I lost vision of the principles that had drawn me to the research in the first place.

The principle is that children learn by doing REAL things. It is in doing real work they learn the real lessons of living in a family and community, respecting their bodies, that everything we do has consequences.

Last week, while my kids were vacuuming and sweeping the floors with their child sized vacuum and brooms, I read Meg’s post on practical life. It got me thinking and examining my recent obsession with needing to obtain all these cutesy ‘things’ to really apply Montessori principles to my homeschool.

So, today, my kids dressed themselves then came downstairs to set the table for breakfast. Jonah and Logan unloaded the dishwasher together. Brenna made scrambled egg and cheese sandwiches on toasted bagels for us all for lunch. We’ve had a very Montessori day!

In applying Montessori practical life principles in our homes we do NOT need various tongs, tweezers and bowls. We need chairs to stand on so kids can help make meals. We need dishes in child-reachable places so they can do the dishes and set the table. We need to teach them to dress themselves and brush their teeth (and let them do it over and over if they feel the urge). We need real shoes with real shoe laces to tie and untie, tie and untie. We need real animals to feed and care for–real gardens to weed and harvest.

There is really no better place to learn the lessons of practical life than in the home. It can be hard sometimes as a homeschooling mom to feel like I need to be doing something more–like I need to be orchestrating things, demonstrating gadgets to enhance fine motor skills or something else academic sounding.

But I just need to remember that my kids need real experiences with real work–and real life is centered in my home.


Because I can’t bear to make a post without a photo, here’s proof my kids dressed themselves:)

8 thoughts on “PRACTICAL practical life

  1. Great post — it’s very easy to get swept up in educational marketing, all that cute, fun stuff, but it’s still marketing!

  2. Wonderful ideas. I hadn’t thought to teach Anna how to properly care for herself–something she needs to know. Thanks for the ideas!

  3. Hello! I just wanted to say bravo to your post! I’m a K-12 homeschool grad (gosh… it’s been 4 years already! lol!), and the best lessons I learned were the practical, real-world lessons I learned at home. I’m sure your kids will one day thank you for not “doing more” and allowing them to learn these things organically. :) Thats what I loved about being homeschooled: the ability to morph and evolve the learning through every day experiences! Keep it up!! :)

  4. I think sometimes it’s easy to lose track of the fact that kids will do whatever is offered to them. What I mean by that is that if we offer toys, they will play with toys. But if we offer activities which allow them to contribute to the home and family, that’s what they’ll do. That’s what will provide fun as well as challenge and a sense of accomplishment. My mom was a teacher before she started staying home with me when I was a kid. I feel like I was really lucky in that she helped me find productive things to do when I was at home!

  5. I only just found your blog after reading about your Heifer quilt in their World Ark magazine (congratulations, by the way!) Perhaps it’s unfair to read one post and comment right away, but I feel I should jump in here with a little plug for the Montessori PL exercises that you described as incorporating “gadgets.” I couldn’t agree with you more about the lessons of real life, but the the PL “works,” as they were called at the school where I was admissions director for 10 years, are indeed very real and meaningful to children: they teach hand/eye coordination, develop a child’s sense of order and independence, help them focus on a task that is important to them and follow it through to completion, and help them understand following sequential steps and making intelligent choices, all skills that will be carried into later academic subjects. I could go on and on (what I used to do for a living!), but I wanted to encourage you and your readers to continue to explore the desired outcomes behind these developmentally-appropriate tasks, which adults may call “works” but children see as play. While they may not always get the chores done, they do help children see themselves as able and accomplished, confidently contributing their skills to the “adult” world in which they live.

  6. Ann-
    Thanks for your comment! My Heifer project was such a great experience and a greater success than I had hoped. I’m glad you found my blog :)

    I do see the value in the PL excercises and understand their place in a Montessori environment. I have just been really hung up on the need to create a “just right” environment in my homeschool and realized that in so many ways I am already doing it. I am providing meaningful practical life work for my kids by having them use the things we have and use every day. I don’t need to have more “things,” I just need to understand the principles and vision of what developmentally appropriate education should be and apply them. A focus on principle will help me choose the things we really need, whereas a focus on things will always just leave me wanting more things. Does that make sense?

    Thanks so much for sharing your experience and insight.


  7. Dear Jess,
    I absolutely agree with you! In the end, children do not learn from “things.” (Don’t get me started on computers and so-called educational videos!) They learn from being in an environment that allows them to teach themselves, and the most important feature in that environment will always be the adult who understands, to paraphrase Dr. Montessori, how best to serve the child’s spirit, encouraging the child to think for her/himself. You go, girl!

  8. Cool blog honey. Hopefully they will learn to match clothes some days, for some occasions atleast :-)
    I love your thoughts and your response to Ann. Keep it up. You are “a woman that knows.” You are doing such a great job. I love you so much.
    Love, MOM

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