Understanding the Montessori Practical Life Curriculum

The Practical Life curriculum is the cornerstone of the Montessori experience. It lays the foundation for the independence that unfolds in the Montessori classroom. The lessons and materials within this area of the classroom vary widely; some are easy to spot and others are more subtle. Let’s take a look at the Montessori classroom, and the many opportunities that children have to practice the daily living skills that make up the Practical Life curriculum.

Four Categories of the Practical Life Curriculum

The four categories of Practical Life lessons isolate different key concepts that are all part of the child’s journey towards independence. Together they help a child learn self-awareness and to become conscious of their language, behavior, actions, and impact on others. The four categories are:

  • Grace and Courtesy – getting along well with others
  • Control of Movement – being aware of your body in space
  • Care of Self – learning to care for your own needs and to help others who need it
  • Care of Environment – cleaning up after yourself and being responsible for your actions
Two children using practical life materials at Children's House Montessori School of Reston
Practical Life is more fun with friends!

Grace and Courtesy

People often wonder how we can have three, four, and five year olds together in the same classroom and maintain a calm learning environment. Lessons in Grace and Courtesy make our mixed-age classrooms possible; they are central to creating a peaceful and harmonious classroom.

In layman’s terms, Grace and Courtesy means polite manners and respectful behavior. The expectation is that everyone in the classroom is worthy of respect and that polite manners are one of the ways we can show that respect. Teachers model Grace and Courtesy by speaking politely to their students and their colleagues. Children are always watching and learn so much from observing the adults in their lives. 

Children learn to

  • politely interrupt 
  • wait their turn
  • have patience with friends
  • greet teachers and friends politely
  • welcome newcomers to the classroom
  • disagree peacefully and speak respectfully
Child raises her hand at circle time at Children's House Montessori School of Reston.
We all have exciting things to share at circle time, but we need to learn to wait our turn.

Control of Movement

Between the ages of 3 and 6, children need a variety of opportunities to develop their balance, coordination, and fine motor skills. There is a connection between physical order and internal order. A child who can control their body, can better control their mind and their impulses. It’s an ongoing process that the Montessori classroom addresses in different ways. 

  • Balance – children walk along a marked line on the floor, placing one foot in front of the other. They might hold a small bell, taking care to walk carefully and keep the bell from ringing. They learn balance, and strive to complete the line without misstep. 
  • Coordination – many of the Practical Life materials are arranged on small trays, which the children must carry to their workspace. Children learn to carry items one at a time, to place their things on the table before pulling out their chair, and how to move carefully through the busy classroom.
  • Fine Motor Skills – from transferring small beads carefully with a tiny spoon to learning how to thread a needle in preparation for sewing, the Practical Life shelves are filled with fine motor practice opportunities. 
The materials on the Practical Life shelf are easily changed out to reflect different holidays and seasons.

Care of Self

In order for a child to gain independence, they need to be able to care for their basic needs: using the bathroom, washing hands, using a tissue, getting dressed, etc. There are plenty of teachable moments in daily life, but children also need time to practice these skills without a time constraint. The Montessori dressing frames isolate the fine motor skills needed to work a zipper, manipulate a button into a buttonhole, close a snap or buckle, and tie a bow with laces. 

Once a child has mastered a technique, they are often quick to help others who are still learning. This makes it so much easier to get ready to go outside in the wintertime! Zipping coats, tying shoes, and buttoning jackets is a lot faster when most of the class can get the job done themselves and are willing to help those who can’t.

Care of the Environment

When you are in a Montessori classroom, you are part of a community. Every person in the classroom, from the most experienced teacher to the youngest student, has an important role to play in keeping the classroom in order. Montessori children learn that they are capable of doing real work and that their work is valued and important.

Children learn to clean up spills and messes, using child-sized brooms, mops, and dustpans. They have access to the tools they need to wipe up splatters of paint, sweep up sand that was tracked in from the playground, or clean fingerprints from the classroom windows. They learn how to water the classroom plants, help feed the class pet, fill playground birdfeeders, and use small rakes to clear leaves in the fall. 

The Montessori Practical Life curriculum is a combination of specific lessons and real life experience. They teach the children the steps to take, the materials to use, and the skills they need to “do it myself.” 

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