When you go into a Montessori classroom you will see low level shelves where the children can access the materials and put them back after use. One of the areas is called the Practical Life Activities or the area of everyday living. Some schools might call them Practical skills for life.
These are indeed every day activities to promote independence, hand-eye co-ordination and build up your child’s concentration, hand and pincer control for later pen work. The activities are often teacher made, pound stores are a regular stomping ground for a Montessori teacher!
In Montessori we use real tools, peelers, scissors and knives that cut. Always supervise your child when using real tools, little by little their skills will progress with increasing control.
Here are just a few of the PL activities (as we fondly call them) on the Woodentots’ shelves: • Carrot peeling – children as young as 2 years old love to peel their own carrot for a snack.
• Juicing oranges – perfect for strengthening hand muscles.
• Grating nutmeg – collected in a jar to add to warm milk.
• Threading – a basket of wooden beads, large and small as well as pasta shapes.
• Threading aids hand and eye coordination, and requires a high level of concentration.
• Spooning lentils from different containers.
• Pouring lentils using small jugs.
• Pouring water from different containers.
• Pouring using a funnel.
In Montessori we offer many opportunities to pour as it indirectly teaches early Mathematical concepts such as volume and space.
Using basters or syringes to transfer water. Using a sponge to absorb and squeeze to transfer water – building hand muscles. Using tweezers to transfer beans – particularly good for 4 year olds to strengthen the pincer control in preparation for pencil holding. Strips of paper and scissors – for practice using scissors, later, lines can be added or shapes to be cut out.
At home bath time is a wonderful opportunity to pour. Provide your child with plastic jugs, a baster, funnel, sponge and plastic bottles of different sizes. Pound shops will have all that you will need, and save shampoo bottles. By adding some bubble bath this will add another dimension to the fun and role – play will evolve. You can also offer your child water play outside with a washing up bowl. Children also love washing up. Invest in a stool so they can reach the sink and a plastic apron, this used to keep my daughter amused for hours. Provide a whisk and some washing – up liquid for some added fun.
Small children love nothing more than to help out with the household chores, provide them with a child sized broom, dustpan and brush, and small feather duster. They will happily clean alongside you.
Practical Life Toys/Items
Some ideas of toys and items to promote Practical Life Skills from approximately age 2 years.
• Bead sets – large to begin with from about 2 years and then small. Necklace making is a brilliant activity to take away with you.
• Good quality children’s scissors/left handed ones if your child is left handed.
• A hammering set – a small hammer, cork board, pins and shapes (available from Tiger).
• A child sized broom, dust pan, brush.
• A set of wooden Russian dolls.
• A fastening toy with buckles, bows and zips to practice.
• Wooden fruit and vegetables with velcro and a wooden knife.
• First sewing kits – the type with pre made holes.
• Threading kits.
‘Help Me do it Alone’
Provide a good quality stool that your child can easily move around to reach things without asking. I recommend the Pintoy woodenstep stool – available from Amazon around £25. When selecting a highchair for your child, think about buying a Trip Trap high chair, these come with a detachable tray so that your child can be at the table with the family to enjoy a meal.
A Trip Trap high chair will be worth the purchase, later the straps are removed and the chair is perfect for providing a good support when drawing and later when homework is needed. We still use ours and my daughters are 11 and 13 now! During family mealtimes a small grater can be offered so that your child can grate their own Parmesan onto their pasta. Provide a small water jug, and cup for your child to pour themselves a drink. Try not to worry about spillages, this will be short lived. Involve your child in setting the table from an early age, and this will be the natural rhythm of your mealtimes.
After the meal encourage them to put their plate into the dishwasher. You might like to introduce a family tradition at supper, perhaps burning a candle for your child to blow out once the meal time is over.