Monday, December 16, 2013

Simplify Preschool: Practical Life

This first post in my series of unplanned learning will focus on Practical Life activities. According to Montessori Primary Guide, Practical Life activities are "Exercises so the child can learn how to do living activities in a purposeful way." This includes basic movements like pouring, folding and carrying, care and maintenance of self and environment, grace and courtesy, and coordination. This post will be one of the easiest and hardest at the same time. Obviously M does all of these things all day long, but they are such a regular part of our day that I rarely take pictures of her doing them!

Here are some examples:


If you search for Montessori Practical Life activities, you are likely to find a ton of "transfer" activities. They use all different kinds of containers, and all different methods of transferring different materials from one container to another (pouring, using tweezers, using a spoon...). I set up several of these activities for M, and she really liked them at first. After a while, she started to get bored with the activities and didn't see the purpose. I have found that "real" transfer activities - those that occur naturally during our day - are much more interesting to her because she knows she is doing something that is necessary. She helps pour water to fill the dogs' water bowl, uses a watering can to water plants, and dumps food scraps from the kitchen compost bin into the large compost bin in the yard. She's also pretty good about cleaning up spills.


She also enjoys transfer activities in which she gets to make up the rules. She's not particularly interested in just transferring a bunch of marbles from one bowl to another, but will spend a long period of time pouring marbles into containers of her choosing in her play kitchen, or dumping water into the water wheel toys at the water table.

We take some basic "science tools" like tweezers and a magnifying glass with us when we go somewhere that we might use them. You can see in the pictures below how M is using her tweezers to pick up leaves, twigs and small stones to throw into the pond.

Here's another example of practicing fine motor skills by transferring crayons and rolled up pieces of paper with chopsticks while we waited for our food at a restaurant.


Most of M's folding experience comes from helping with the laundry. I pull out small items that I know she can fold (mainly wash clothes and hand towels) and she will fold them for me. I have started showing her how to fold her own clothes too, and she can do a pretty good job if I give her directions. She'll even put her clothes away in her drawers!

In addition, I have borrowed a few origami books from the library and she likes to watch me and look at the pictures as we follow the directions to fold the paper into different shapes. Origami is very precise, so she isn't able to do much at this point without my help, but I think that will be a fun activity to continue as her fine motor skills develop.

Here's a picture of M decorating an origami Christams tree:


Like the pouring activities, M is more interested in carrying things if she sees a real purpose in the task. I have moved most of her snacks to a lower shelf in the pantry so she can pick out what she wants and carry her snacks to the table. She will also help clear the table and carry dishes to the kitchen to load the dishwasher.

Care of Self

We have had a bit of a regression in the care of self department lately. M has decided that she's not capable of doing a lot of things herself, like getting dressed or eating certain foods. I have been giving her very specific directions to help her complete these tasks, and she is proud when she is able to do something on her own. She does seem to get frustrated by some of these tasks (like putting on her socks or shoes), I think because they seem so easy for my husband or myself. I also find myself doing things for her to save time when we are rushing out the door, so I need to consciously leave more time to allow her to practice taking care of herself.

Here you can see her concentration as she threads the velcro straps on an arm brace for my "broken arm." Luckily it only took about two minutes to heal before she was able to remove it.

Eating healthy foods is also part of taking care of yourself, so I try to get M involved in cooking and preparing meals as much as possible. I absolutely love the learning tower that my husband built for her (using these directions), because it gives her a safe and easy way to get up to the counter height to help.

Care of Environment

Lots of daily activities fall under "care of environment." M helps to clean up the toys in her playroom, throw away trash or put recycling in the recycling bin, put dirty clothes in the hamper, and sort utensils from the dishwasher. She has also gotten really excited about decorating the house (especially Christmas decorations!).  I consider things like choosing artwork to hang on the walls of her playroom and restocking the shelves at the pretend grocery store at the Children's Museum to be "care of environment" activities as well. In addition, we talk about how to care for the environment as a whole - the effects of litter and other types of pollution, conserving energy (why we turn out lights when we leave a room, etc), and trying to eat organic local foods when possible.

Below are some pictures of the fairy house we designed and built at a homeschool group meetup. M had a lot of fun picking out all of the natural materials to use for the house. We had never built a fairy house before, so it took several trials to get something that would stand (I finally used some cardboard as the base and glued the twigs, leaves and flowers to the cardboard). She was extremely proud of how it turned out, and even added a large leaf for a floor and some play-doh "beds" for the fairies to enjoy.

Grace and Courtesy

Everyday interactions are the best teacher of grace and courtesy. I know that M watches me and listens to what I say because she has started using some of my own "sayings" on me! One of our dogs was driving me crazy at dinner the other day and I yelled at her to stop whining. M turned to me and said "Mommy, you don't have to be mean to the dogs." I replied, "Do you hear her? She's driving me crazy!" M gave me a look and said "Just because she's being not nice doesn't mean that you need to be not nice to her." Yup... lesson learned.

We also practice using manners, greeting friends, introducing ourselves, and other courteous mannerisms that I'd like her to pick up. I hear her practicing her manners with her dolls all the time!



M is a bit of a monkey, and spends a lot of her time running, jumping and climbing. She is currently obsessed with building "tents" out of blankets and wraps, and she is learning a lot about how to design a sturdy structure.

We go to parks and playgrounds regularly, and have also been to gymnastics open gym classes and to Gravitopia, an indoor trampoline park.

Total side note, but as I'm finishing up this post, M asked me to put on some music so she could dance. I pulled up the Pandora Disney (Holiday) station, and the first song to come on was "Seasons of Love." Don't you just get chills when the perfect song comes on that matches exactly how you're feeling??

In - Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand
Six Hundred Minutes
How Do You Measure
A Year In The Life?

How About Love?

Check out the whole "Simplify Preschool" series here.

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