Practical Life

Practical Life is the single most important area of an education for life at ARVM. At the Montessori Parent Night on Tuesday, April 17, the guides discussed how Practical Life skills are practiced in their classrooms and how they inform the whole child. Physical, intellectual, academic and spiritual aspects of each child are developed to their fullest potential through the experience lessons in the area of Practical Life.

Practical LifePractical Life ClassroomPractical Life








The guides spoke under a banner created by the early elementary students that defined the term by breaking down each element -

Practical: basic, useful, purposeful
Life: the way of living

Somers Piazza, co-founder and Head of School, explained that in Maria Montessori's homeland of Italy the Montessori schools refer to Practical Life activities as "family work" - such an appropriate name for work that essentially makes possible our solid, deep relationships. Practical Life experiences cover three major areas: care of self, care of environment, and grace and courtesy. These experiences naturally expand as the child matures and becomes more active in the larger world. It is Practical Life that sets a Montessori education apart from any other method. Practical Life skills educate the whole child and are critical to the development of character. This provides the groundwork for all mental, physical, and social development. Through this work, children of all ages learn to solve problems, work in community, resolve conflict, adapt to the unexpected, and experience satisfaction upon completing meaningful work as part of a community.


Julie Anderson
(Julie Anderson, Primary classroom lead guide, demonstrates the table
washing lesson)

In the primary classroom, a whole area of the classroom is dedicated to Practical Life lessons. There you will find a mop and bucket, a small broom, a drying rack, laundry basket, and trays set up for such things as silver polishing as well as lessons for spooning, pouring, using a funnel, buttoning, zipping, and shoe tying, to name a few. Lessons of grace and courtesy are abundant, with lessons that teach a child how to politely interrupt, how to wait, how to watch someone work, how to prepare snack for a friend, how to invite a friend to have snack, and how to kindly decline an invitation to snack, just to name a few!


Pat BowenPat Bowen, a co-founder of ARVM, the Academic Director, and the Early Elementary lead guide, explains that for the primary age child these lessons are about developing the skills needed to manage a task, such as how to hold and guide a broom so that it effectively moves an item on the floor. She gave the example of a 2 1/2 year old child in the primary classroom who washed his hands four times in a row at the hand washing lesson table. After the first wash his hands were obviously clean, so why did he repeat this three more times? Because he was practicing the skill, learning to manage pouring the water into the basin, working with the soap to create enough suds, discovering how to isolate and then wash each finger, managing the sudsy water, and then restoring the lesson to its original place on the shelf. Another example is the younger child sweeps not to clean, she explained, but to perfect the skill of sweeping with a degree of success.

When the children reach elementary age, 6 or 7 years old, the goals of Practical Life work become similar to that of an adult which is to complete a task and achieve a certain end. The elementary student sweeps the floor because it is dirty. He washes his hands to get them clean. Practical Life activity grows out of daily classroom life for older students. It is seen when they prepare their environment at meal times, or when they clean a spill or broken dish. It is seen when they collaborate on an academic project such as creating a chart to record data or research and must work out together who is responsible for each aspect of the project. It is seen at the end of the day when all the students work together to return their classroom to its proper order and ready for them the next day. Why do we do this in a Montessori classroom when in most cases it is certainly a lot less trouble for the adults to just handle these situations themselves? Pat summarizes the values instilled in the children through their work in Practical Life:

Responsibility - It doesn't take many times sweeping up a broken glass before a child begins to act more responsibly.
Independence - Every act, even learning to read, has independence as its goal.
Problem Solving - What do you do when it's time for lunch and the tablecloths are still wet because they didn't get put in the dryer?

Myra Stenhammar
(Myra Stenhammar, Upper Elementary classroom lead guide)

For the students in the upper elementary classroom, Practical Life is about further developing mental order, responsibility and working together in a group. They participate in a common task and learn to interact in positive, supportive ways and to make a contribution to both the class and the school. The classroom environment makes the child's work possible. It is prepared for the child to become independent, to explore and work with joy. Order is necessary to work. It gives a sense of security and mental order is absorbed from the environment. When things are ready and prepared for the day, it makes it easy for the child to work. If things are not available in their places it stops the impulse to work. Maintaining the classroom environment is part of the Practical Life work for the upper elementary students. As they grow older, their contribution to the life of the school increases. They help with morning carpool and afternoon carpool for the primary students, they run the dishwasher in the kitchen, do laundry for several classes, clean the school library, and raise and lower the flag. They also learn leadership when they analyze and solve problems, guide their peers and take on challenges and complete them successfully every day.

Vonda SteppVonda Stepp is the lead guide for the students in the Adolescent Community. She explains that the adolescent, age 12-15, wants work that is challenging, important, real, and fills a need. Character is developed in adolescents through Practical Life work that is bigger than seems possible. For her students, running two businesses is not just about raising money, its about learning how to run a business, and its about providing a service. In the process of working together with a common aim they learn about the challenges of leadership rolls and how to manage the uncomfortable positions of either telling peers what to do or having a peer tell them what to do. Learning not to take things personally is essential for leadership, and not always a lesson easily learned. But Vonda explains to her students, they are not children, nor are they adults, so she will work together with them to navigate this in-between period of their lives so that they develop the character traits that will carry them through.
Her class also spends a lot of time in volunteer work, but not just to do something good. Their choices of where to spend time volunteering come from where they see a need to be filled. They understand that one person cannot always fill these needs, so they must work together. There is little chance for a sense of entitlement to form in her students. Practical Life in the Adolescent Community fosters a deep sense of purpose and service, an understanding of the true value of their efforts, and instills in each student confidence in their abilities and a positive sense of self.

So why do we do it? Why do we put as much or more into Practical Life experiences as we do academics? Our vision is to educate the whole child, to provide an environment in which every individual can realize his or her fullest potential, and to nurture creativity and innovation. We have seen the value of real work, work that is worthy of the child, in instilling in the child a sense of peace and order. Even when it gets messy, and it does, it is well worth the trouble. It is the reason our students think differently in both academic work and Practical Life situations. Our students are confident, responsible, and independent. They have an experience of compassion and service to others. They are well prepared for a purposeful way of living - Practical Life.

Please also take a moment to read some articles about the practical application of Montessori education by today's most innovative entrepreneurs in our complex and fast-changing world. Published by national periodicals these articles demonstrate the relevance of Montessori in the 21st century and how business leaders use their Montessori education to propel their efforts forward - fast forward!

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American Montessori Society - education that transforms lives