Home / Why Montessori Education / Lean in Closer, and I’ll Let You in on a Secret…


By: Tammy Swanson (1/26/12)
People have complimented me on many things throughout my life: my intelligence, ability to abstract, and creativity, to name a few. Yet, I have never heard a soul utter praise as to my practicality, coordination, or common sense. In fact, I’ve heard the opposite: “Seriously, Tammy? Doing it this way would make a lot more sense.” or “Do you even know how to do this?” And yes, I occasionally bump into walls and random objects, too. This warrants the occasional, “Whoa, where did you get that bruise from?” or “Watch out… there’s a table there…” I can understand complex philosophical theories, but I can’t iron my own pants. In short, I STILL badly need to master Practical Life.

What is Practical Life? It’s my favorite section of the classroom, and in my opinion, it’s the foundation. Here, you’ll see activities such as pouring, folding, and washing. But what the eye may fail to catch is the child building the ability to concentrate, developing muscular control and coordination, fulfilling the great need for order at this age, and becoming more independent. If you lean in closer, I’ll let you in on a secret. The secret of Practical Life is: not only are children learning how to take care of themselves, each other, and the environment with these exercises, but they are developing themselves as a whole human being. Plus, personally, I think they acquire the not-so-common Common Sense. They’re learning the basics for life.

Practical Life teaches order by requiring work to be done and found in the same way – neatly, purposefully, and beautifully. The exercises also help the child gain coordination in focusing on improving skills such as hand-eye coordination, bodily awareness, and the ability to hold a pencil. For instance, Pouring Grain is an exercise in the Practical Life area. Mastering the ability to pour grain back and forth into cups may not sound as exciting of a success story as performing addition or reading a sentence, but now, you’re aware the secret of Practical Life. You know better!! Now, you know that the child can concentrate more, is more coordinated, has a better sense of order, and is more independent.

Let me walk you through a child’s experience in Pouring Grain. The child finds the materials arranged in an orderly way: beautiful, neat, and everything in its place. She then takes the exercise to her own work table in order to concentrate on performing the activity. Using hand-eye coordination, she completes the activity as many times as she wishes, arranges the exercise so it looks the way she found it, then returns it to its proper place. There is no assistance from the teacher (even if the child makes mistakes); the child explores the exercise independently and grows in her self-esteem and confidence. What can be better for a child than to have a bigger sense of independence, confidence, and self-esteem?

I wish with all my heart that I had the experience of learning Practical Life in the classroom. I had the experiences of learning Language and Math. I even excelled in them. Yet, I was missing the basics. I missed out on the fundamentals. I hadn’t had the opportunity to develop myself as a whole human being. It took me a long time to develop my own independence, confidence, and self-esteem. I’m even still working on my coordination and common sense (common sense still has a long way to go)! It’s tempting to focus on what children are learning in just the Math or Language sections – obvious essentials to function in today’s world. Yet, I encourage you to lean in closer. I challenge you to see what the eye does not see. I welcome you to ask yourself, “What makes a human being whole?” And then watch, as the secret unfolds, and your child beautifully pieces together the fundamentals… and himself… using Practical Life.


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