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.
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