“If teaching is to be effective with young children, it must assist them to advance on the way to independence. It must initiate them into those kinds of activities, which they can perform themselves. We must help them to learn how to walk without assistance, to run, to go up and down the stairs, to pick up fallen objects, to dress and undress, to wash themselves, to express their needs, and to attempt to satisfy their desires through their own efforts. All this is part of an education for independence.” – Maria Montessori, The Discovery of the Child
“Practical life” activities, as they are commonly known, form the backbone of any Montessori-inspired home. They provide rich opportunities for children to meaningfully contribute to the care of their home and themselves, allow for growing independence, and grow a huge range of skills (fine / gross motor, hand-eye coordination, concentration, balance, perseverance, social skills, hand strength being but a few) at the same time as laying the foundations for more formal academic learning later on.
Practical life activities also provide us as caregivers with a wonderful opportunity to show our children that we trust them, and that we value the contributions that they make. Children are often inherently drawn to these sorts of tasks and activities (but not always – I’ll come back to this point) because they see us carrying them out, day in day out.
If you’re new to introducing practical life activities, here are a few tips to get you started:
- Choose meaningful work, which will genuinely contribute to your home or life in some way. Ditch the “scooping dry beans into a bowl” activities and instead involve your child in cooking. One exception I have found is water play – the bath or the sink is the perfect place for practicing pouring skills, and I’ve never met a child who doesn’t love squirting their unsuspecting parents with a pipette full of water…
- Offer or suggest activities when you’re both feeling well rested, not hungry, and in a good mood. Frida naturally gravitates towards these kinds of activities in the morning when she’s feeling refreshed after a good sleep.
- To begin with, decide the level of mess you feel you can tolerate. I’m pretty ok with spills and mess now (this does NOT come naturally to me by the way!) but if you know an activity is going to make you feel stressed, park it for now. Better for you to enthusiastically allow your child to get stuck into an activity without you feeling tempted to interfere or do “damage control”.
- Linked to this point, try to sit on your hands and allow your child to work without your involvement. Allow them to problem solve and feel pride in their work. How would you feel if as soon as you had finished cleaning a room, your mother swept in and re-cleaned everything? I know it can be hard and this is definitely a learning point for me at times.
- Where appropriate, provide your child with real tools to do the job. A proper scrubbing brush. An accessible water supply. Their own knife and chopping board. This makes their job easier, their efforts more effective, and shows you take their contribution seriously.
- Practical life activities may look simple, but there are often many steps a child needs to complete. In the photos accompanying this blog post, Frida is watering plants. To do so, she needs to fill up a jug, carefully pour the water into the pots, refill the jug when necessary, carry each plant pot back to its place, wipe the table, and bring the jug back to kitchen. Think about these steps, how many you might reasonably expect your child to carry out, and ensure you have everything to hand ready.
- Try not to be disheartened if your child isn’t interested in something the first time you try. Don’t give up – with time, and after observing you joyfully carrying out whatever task it is you’d like them to be involved in, they may well change their minds. Make it a habit, perhaps building in dedicated time for certain practical life activities into your daily or weekly rhythms.
I want to add a note on practical life activities, in case you’re reading this and thinking “that’s all well and good for you, but my child isn’t interested in activities like these”. It’s easy to read blogs and think that some children are always keen on carrying out these sorts of activities, or on doing charming crafts, or on baking / sewing / painting / *insert bloggable activity here*.
In our home at least, it’s not consistent. Sometimes Frida loves to help with chores around the house, sometimes – often – when I offer she declines. Same with things like dressing herself (sometimes she wants to do it, other times she will not entertain the idea and only mummy will do). I could go on, but you get the idea! She is strong willed, and knows her own mind – qualities I treasure in her. All children are different, and will have different needs, interests, and preferences – these will change as they develop, and depending on their mood and what else is going on.
Some children positively thrive in the kitchen whilst some may hate the feel of anything wet or “dirty” on their skin. Some will love meticulously cleaning a table, or sweeping, or practising putting their shoes on. Some will not want to do any of those things. Just because someone else’s child is doing something, it doesn’t mean yours should be or could be – and that’s ok. I cannot stress that enough!
In summary, I have found with Frida that the most important thing is to consistently ask her if she wants to join in with my work, provide her plenty of meaningful practical real life activities, and encourage her to carry out tasks independently. If she wants to, great. If not, no problem. I will trust she’s doing what she needs to do. #followthechild
There are still a handful of tickets remaining for the April Frida be Mighty mothers’ morning, where we will be exploring ways of simplifying and slowing down in our children’s (and our own) daily and weekly rhythms, and digging deep into what we want our priorities to be as mothers.
It’s going to be a brilliant morning, connecting with like-minded mothers over tea, cake, and conversation, and you will leave feeling energised, with plenty of tips to put into action. Come and join us!