Discovering Practical Life : Ana’s Story

Making Montessori Your Own : Ana's Story

In Part 4 of Making Montessori Your Own, Ana shares how discovering practical life has helped her daughter become capable and independent in her home. She shares simple examples of ways they collaborate together in different daily activities and how she prepared herself and their home to achieve this. 


Our Discovery of Practical Life

I discovered Montessori when my daughter (22 months) was 5 months old . At the time, I was amazed by all these posts on social media – of 5 year olds baking a dish from start to end, of a 2 year old unloading the dishwasher and putting the dishes back in their place, of 18 month old children eating using the same cutlery as their parents. It seemed unrealistic, to say the least.Now that my daughter at 22 months, peels garlic and cuts vegetables, and eats from the same cutlery as us, and puts her laundry into the washing machine, I know that it’s quite possible, and what each intermediate step looks like on the way. Infact, practical life skills have been one of the most eye-opening parts and unexpected delights of following the Montessori approach. The amount of time we spend “doing” practical life has only increased during lockdown. 

Practical life skills come in two big categories – care of self and care of environment. While there are shelf activities that come under this category, for example, threading beads or button frames, the revelation for us has been doing practical life activities organically as part of our daily routine.

 How do we involve our daughter?

She’s part of our routine – less time that I have to “think of activities” to engage her.

The confidence she feels as a contributing member of the household – and we know, toddlers crave this.

Practical life has given a rich context for learning so much more: for building language, as she learns names of things she’s working with, their colour, texture, size, shape, etc;  for observing processes – the steps involved in washing laundry and the order in which they must be done, for example; 

Perhaps, most importantly, being involved in daily practical life activities has helped my daughter orient herself to our daily life and home – we clean the house in the morning, and do the laundry in the evening; we eat at the dining table and brush our teeth at the sink; knowing the place and time for everything feeds her sense of order. 

How did we approach Practical Life? 

We started introducing practical life to our daughter in three ways 

By having a place for everything, and everything in its (accessible) place– the prepared environment is a prerequisite for a child to be able to do things on their own. While this is a topic for its own post, I will say – we didn’t “prepare” all environments at first – rather, started with a “yes” space for play, and then built accessibility in other areas as our daughter was ready for it.

By having a routine – this is a way to extend the first principle with respect to time – have a time to do everything in your day, and do everything at its time. Toddlers are going through lots of changes in their bodies, and having a predictable routine – of knowing what comes next – gives them trust and confidence and a sense of control – they know what’s going on.

By sportscasting our activities – here, we’d explain things in words as we were doing them, talking about what we were doing and where things go (e.g. “Now I’m putting your dirty clothes in the laundry basket.”). This helped her understand our routine and gain vocabulary.

None of the above three may feel like “practical life” activities – and they are not specifically – but that’s the point. Practical life isn’t “an activity you set up” – it’s a natural progression of involving your child in your life and in your home.

Gradual Progressions

Adding more challenges : We gradually started adding more steps of the full process: for example, at 6 months, I’d place the changed clothes in my daughter’s grip, carry her to the laundry basket and sportscast ton her what we were doing, requesting her to release her grip and ‘drop’ dirty clothes into the basket. By 10 months, my daughter was able to crawl to the basket on her own, and pull to stand up next to it. So, I let her lead those steps too, only sportscasting what was happening. At 15 months, she was carrying her clothes to the washing machine too. We just let her take the lead on different steps of the whole process. Now, she understands end-to-end of changing-to-laundry basket-to washing- hanging to dry – to folding dried clothes-and keeping in her cupboard. It all started with releasing the grip over the laundry basket, and scaffolded from there.

What else? : Last week, my daughter was so proud when she learnt how to open the pedal dustbin with her foot, and put garbage in it. I wasn’t comfortable with her using the dustbin when she was younger, but now that she isn’t mouthing things, and understands we don’t touch the dustbin, and we wash our hands when we do, we’ve added this net new activity, she can do on her own. It may seem like a small thing, but the coordination required to use a pedal bin is quite amazing for a toddler, and seeing her feel proud of her accomplishment, is an added bonus. 

Showing, speaking about and involving in activities she’s not ready to independently do yet: Even when she’s not ready for a practical life activity (e.g. using the gas stove), we regularly model to her how we use it, use the language as we explain the steps. This builds her understanding and readiness for new activities.

All in all, practical life has been a revelation to me! If somebody had told me a few years ago, that a toddler can meaningfully participate in activities around the house, I’d never have believed it. And yes, it’s messy sometimes. And it’s slower than doing it on my own. We don’t do every activity fully everyday, and life isn’t an Instagram-worthy-highlights-reel. But there’s a joy and harmony in having your toddler involved in everyday life around the house that cannot be put into words. Let them surprise you!”


“Any child who is self-sufficient, who can tie his shoes, dress or undress himself, reflects in his joy and sense of achievement the image of human dignity, which is derived from a sense of independence.”

Dr. Montessori, The Child in the Family

Part 1 : Montessori in Limited Spaces

Making Montessori Your Own : Ana's Story

The moment we hear the word Montessori, many of us have flashes of large, fabulous spaces filled with beautiful shelves holding material that beg to be touched and explored. While these pictures may inspire us, they often remain a dream because of practical constraints that hold many of us back such as limited space, budget and other constraints. 

In Part 1 of the series : Making Montessori Your Own, you can read Ana’s simple solutions on how she has made Montessori work in a Limited Space.


Montessori in Limited spaces

There are 5 of us sharing a 2 Bedroom, Hall, Kitchen (my 21 month old daughter, my husband and his parents) and we’ve been following the Montessori approach since my daughter was 5 months. Living in a limited space hasn’t been a barrier to giving our daughter freedom of movement. Looking back, here are a few things we did that really helped us use the space we have in a way that enabled our daughter to do more.

Foldable yoga mats for play area:  These provide good grip and cushioning while your child is learning to crawl or walk. During naps, or after bedtime, you can stow away the mats and use the space. We’ve actually made rolling mats part of the starting-the-day and clean-up routines that book-end the days.

Foldable Yoga Mats

Use the edge of the mat or breakfast table for shelves: The idea is to have toys accessible to the child in an aesthetically pleasing manner. When my daughter was 6 months old and learning to crawl, we kept her toys in a single line at one edge of the play mat. That was enough to serve the purpose, and we didn’t need any shelves for the limited number of toys (3-5) available to her at the time. Now that we place 6 toys for her, we have repurposed a breakfast table that we’ve had for years. This serves the purpose, and that’s all that matters.

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Embrace practical life: Whenever you are feeling doubtful on how you can be “more” Montessori or how you can “follow the child” better – think of everything that they typically do in a day and ask yourself if there’s something that you don’t need to do for them, which they can do on their own. It doesn’t have to be (and is very unlikely that it will be) an end-to-end task, especially with toddlers. It can be one sub-step of one part of an activity – maybe just the action of transferring clothes from your hands to the laundry basket – but it is a step the child does on their own and this builds confidence in their abilities. 

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Next think of everything that you do in the day – all your tasks – and ask yourself, where can your child help? Think of the simple actions they can do, and where they can possibly fit in your task. For e.g. simple action of pouring pre-measured ingredients into the hand-mixer where they just hold the cup while you guide the action. Anything to make them a contributing member of the family. You’ll find many of these activities do not need extra space – but just some rearrangement of  the existing space, or just look at the same task in a new way. 

Kneel and look at your house from your child’s level:  I learnt this simple trick from themontesorrinotebook and it works wonders. Before you begin setting up an area for your child, get on your knees (to your child’s height), and have a look around. This gives you your child’s world view – do they see underlying cables, sharp edges, bulky furniture? Is the space open and inviting for them? Seeing your house from your child’s height will help you prepare the environment for them. 

Keep books on floors/existing shelves:  We keep a couple of books on the bedroom shelf, and a couple more on the centre table in our living room. We don’t have space for a separate bookshelf, but that hasn’t stopped us from keeping a limited number of books, which are frequently rotated, easily accessible to our daughter. These books are available at multiple spots around the house. You can plan to have 1-3 books each in the bedroom, play area and living room, or any other place  your family spends time together. 

Books

Lastly, if you can make one change, make this one – switch to a floor-bed:  This gives your child control over their sleep and has the added bonus of you not having to worry about them rolling over. For our family, we wanted to co-sleep with the baby in our room, so we chose to move to a floor bed with our mattress on the floor when our daughter turned 7 months old.

Floor Bed

For us, this change required no extra space (other than to store our own bed), but we’ve seen it have a remarkable impact on our child’s freedom of movement. You can make this change when your child starts rolling over and the risk of them falling off their bed begins, and keep it till you feel comfortable. The first night we slept on the floor, I asked my husband, “Remind me why are we doing this to ourselves?” (it was actually my idea), but the next morning, when I saw my daughter practicing getting on and off the mattress on her own, it was all worth it. Now, a year in, I think it has been one of the best modifications we have made to our sleeping set-up and I intend to continue this at least until she is about 2 years old.


Montessori can work in all kinds of spaces & Ana’s story shows us the same. It shows us that Montessori lies in the small things such as looking at the environment from the child’s view, asking ourselves how we can involve the child in our daily lives & making do with what’s available. These simple tweaks, moving to a floor bed or repurposing a breakfast table for a shelf are actually all it takes to help young children explore and thrive.