The Practical Life as a curriculum in Montessori is purposeful activity. It develops motor control and coordination. It fosters independence, concentration, and a sense of responsibility. The exercises in Practical Life cover two main areas of development: care of self and care of the environment.
For the Montessori child, the ordinary things that we take for granted as adults and do without thinking or trying, are often curious, new discoveries and challenges to be mastered. This includes the everyday routines and practices of life such as preparing food, dressing oneself, cleaning, washing, serving, gardening and so much more. These are new, sometimes daunting, exciting tasks that are visibly part of the human world, needing to be learned and mastered.
The Montessori learning environment takes full advantage of the child’s motivation to learn these things at a very young age. The Practical Life curriculum explores these everyday routines and practices. With the same rigor as the academic areas of the Montessori classroom, the Practical Life learning offers a pedagogy that elevates and empowers the child in his/her pursuit of these skills.
According to Maria Montessori, “The exercises of Practical Life are formative activities, a work of adaptation to the environment. Such adaptation to the environment and efficient functioning is the very essence of a useful education. The children of three years of age in the ‘Children’s Houses’ learn and carry out such work as sweeping, dusting, making things tidy, setting the table for meals, waiting at table, washing the dishes, etc., and at the same time they learn to attend to their own personal needs, to wash themselves, to take showers, to comb their hair, to take a bath, to dress and undress themselves, … (they) take part in the exercises of practical life. This has a truly educational, not utilitarian purpose. The reaction of the children may be described as a ‘burst of independence’ of all unnecessary assistance that suppresses their activity and prevents them from demonstrating their own capacities. It is just – these ‘independent’ children of ours who learn to write at the age of four and a half years, who learn to read spontaneously, and who amaze everyone by their progress in arithmetic.” (From Childhood to Adolescence, 1974, p. 66)