practical life

Fantasy & Reality in Montessori

An immediate difference most people notice between conventional kindergartens and Montessori environments is the absence of fantasy in Montessori.

When young children are building their own models of the world based on their formative experiences, is it fair to offer them things that are inconsistent with reality? Rather than providing children with amusing but fake tools, we prefer to offer them the real thing (real mops, brooms, knives, glasses, and so on).

However, this does not mean that Montessori children are discouraged from pretend play. Very often, children enjoy experimenting in different ways: both inside the environment (with the real tools of practical life), and outdoors (with that all-time favourite - sand). But this natural inclination to pretend should not be mistaken for a love of fantasy. Dr Montessori believed that children revealed their unmet desires during pretend play -- no wonder then that children love "making" yummy food in the sand pit!

Preparing Children For Life

People often ask us why we have practical life activities in the Montessori environment. How are these related to the child's development, they wonder.

At one level, these activities are great for building fine motor skills, understanding sequential processes and developing concentration in young children. However, we must remember that practical life activities must eventually be PRACTICAL! They have to help equip children for real life.

When our 6-8 year olds stay in school overnight for sleepovers, they put all that practice in practical life activities to use. The children are responsible for planning the dinner menu (they decided on salad & sandwiches), purchasing the groceries, doing the actual cooking (with minimal adult assistance), serving dinner, and cleaning up after.

Speaking as adults, we very much enjoyed the hospitality!

Practical Life: Matching Keys with Locks

 
 

Some Montessori activities are genuinely complex, and can be very confusing for adults unaccustomed to our approach. However, some other Montessori activities are very simple to understand, but can breed endless complexity with little tweaks.

One of our favourite introductory practical life exercises is the lock-and-key set: this is a simple set of locks and keys, with children trying to match the correct pairs. Based on the child's level, the set can contain a variety of differently sized locks, or a larger number of pairs.

It is not unusual for us to see children younger than 3 working on solving this puzzle for an extended duration of time without asking for any help. It is indeed a wonderful activity for developing fine motor skills and problem-solving abilities, and very easy to replicate at home!