Part of the activity that is so important to a Montessori environment are the exercises that develop coordinated movements of the fingers and hands. Practical Life exercises form the basis of these, with activities such as pouring, spooning, buttoning, polishing, planting, washing, lacing, and others. These exercises help focus attention of the child to the mechanics of the task (not necessarily to the outcome), ultimately preparing him to imitate adults, and reach independence. “If he sees someone sweeping the floor, or making pastry, he is now able to join in; the new idea can stimulate successful action. (“The Absorbent Mind”, Maria Montessori, 163).
Practical Life exercises build the self-esteem and manual dexterity needed for the more advanced areas of a Montessori class. Each exercise is performed in a particular sequence with precision. This self-control develops concentration. And once completed, the material is returned to its place, ready for the next child, allowing for another key component of Montessori education, repetition. By the self- initiated decision to perform the task again, the child gains independence and self-confidence. Thus, through the many Practical Life exercises in a Montessori classroom, the child actively participates in the affairs of everyday life and masters the fundamentals needed to live comfortably in the adult world.
Below are some examples of Practical Life exercises in our Montessori class. Its important to remember that each of these exercises have first been demonstrated methodically by the teacher. From taking the tray off the shelf to precisely following a sequence of moves to slice, spoon, tweeze, etc., each movement is carefully performed. The exactness of the presentation captures the child’s attention, often to such a degree, that should the teacher push up her sleeve during the procedure, the child will also push up his sleeve when he performs the work himself. What a perfect example of the absorbent mind at this stage of development!