Navigating the world around you
learning to interact with your environment
Montessori practical life materials lay the groundwork for the most basic learning in the Montessori classroom. From the beginning of Early Childhood, students interact with real-world materials in thoughtful, practical ways. They explore the fundamentals of their environment so that they can gain confidence, and begin to develop the skills needed to leap into more complex work.
Practical life materials teach children to move safely within their environment, interact with and influence their surroundings, and explore the relationships between physical objects. Students interact with the same types of objects they would come across in the non-school environments of their lives, so that they can develop an understanding of how different materials behave.
Practical life exercises also include more nuanced practices like self-care, food and nutrition, and interacting with others. Students learn the importance and rituals of actions like hand-washing, cleaning up after themselves, and using silverware. As with all Montessori exercises, students start out with a simple, streamlined version of the exercise and move on to more complex and refined variations.
Mats and Trays
Throughout the Montessori curriculum, students often select work stored on trays or in boxes, and then bring those materials to a work mat for further exploration. This is a behavior that is modeled with the youngest students in the Montessori environment. Early on, children begin to develop these routines by learning to carry their work mats and unroll them onto the floor, and then to roll them back up neatly and place them back in their storage spot. Students next learn to select works from the classroom shelves and carry their trays to where they will be working on their mat.
Using grains or other similarly small pellets, students develop their coordination and dexterity by scooping spoonfuls from one container into another, being careful not to spill. The youngest students focus on using their hands carefully, and are encouraged to take as much time as they need in order to move the grains from one container to another without feeling rushed or uncomfortable. This helps to develop concentration, independence, and motor skills.
Further exploring the relationships between different objects in their environment, students begin to try slightly more difficult maneuvers, such as pouring. Students, using either small solids like grains, or water, learn to lift one container and pour the contents into another container. As students progress with this work, they start to incorporate more complex aspects like pouring from a large container into two smaller containers; or pouring water into a flower vase, and adding an appropriately sized flower.
Montessori Early Childhood classrooms are often equipped with a sink or a wash basin for hand washing. Students learn proper hand-washing techniques–being careful not to make a mess, washing the entirety of both hands, drying off, putting everything back in the right place–as well as the reasons for washing your hands throughout the day.
The dressing frame is a material that serves a variety of related purposes. The frame consists of a wooden square with fabric attached to each side. Each piece of attached fabric has some sort of fastener connected to it, so that children can practice connecting the fabric pieces using buttons, zippers, laces, bows, buckles, and snaps. Students experiment with actual fabrics, and real fasteners so that they will be prepared for dressing themselves in real clothing.
As students develop motor skills and move to more complex tasks, they also start completing tasks that are beneficial to themselves and their peers. One such task is the preparing of snacks. Students learn to use silverware, plates, cutting boards, and the materials needed to clean up after snack preparation. Students practice cutting fruits and vegetables into bite-sized portions, placing them on a plate, and bringing them to a table to eat. This is related to the work of setting the table, and later, cleaning the table.
Students explore a number of works related to caring for and cleaning their environments. Students learn to use spray bottles, washcloths, and squeegees to effectively clean windows and mirrors; they learn to sweep, mop, and dust different surfaces. They also learn to clean their chalkboards, and put all of their materials back into the proper places.
Walking on the Line
As students move toward perfecting their coordination and body movement, increasingly complex physical tasks help them to practice these movements. Walking along a line on the floor is one of the simple practices that grows along with the child. From simple walking along the line, to heel-to-toe walking, and eventually, walking while carrying a glass of water or balancing an object on one's head.