Category Archives: Practical Life

Our little helper in the kitchen

We have been doing lots more food preparation activities this week, thanks to our DIY learning tower.

Since S is helping out in the kitchen my job has become easier in a way. She is happily engaged while I am cooking dinner.

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I love our crinkle cutter, easy to hold and cut, and safe to use independently

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learning to hold and use tongs, very tricky

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adding dressing, and we are now ready to eat

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Here, we are learning to spread some coconut oil on a piece of cracker. We are using a small child size spreading knife and a small natural bamboo chopping board on a tray. We love using coconut oil because of it’s texture, smell, and taste and it is a natural moisturiser for skin, a great learning opportunity to actively engage all senses. We have started to use unrefined, organic, raw, cold-pressed coconut oil, what type of oil do you use?

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Food Preparation

Food preparation is one area of Practical Life activities.

I am going to start with cutting a banana. The reason I have chosen banana as a start is because it is soft, easy to peel and cut, and S loves eating it.

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Until now I’ve been giving S small pieces of banana and mandarin (with the skin on) to peel and eat (like the pictures above ).

Now it is time to take it to the next level. Here I have set up the activity on a low table with all the materials we need. I am going to use a spreading knife for safety reason.

This instruction is just a guide, to break down the activity into steps so we can remind ourselves how complicated our every day tasks are and how much effort and concentration it takes for a small child to carry out a simple task.

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1)sit on your child’s dominant side.

2)tell her “today I’m going to show you how to peel a banana and cut it”.

3)pick up the banana, hold it with your non-dominant hand.

4) peel it with your dominant hand.

5)put the skin in the bowl (or whatever you are going to use).

6)place the banana on the chopping board.

7) pick up the knife and hold it with your dominant hand.

8) hold the banana on the board with your non-dominant hand (make sure yours arms are not obstructing the child’s view).

9)start cutting the banana from left to right into small pieces.

10)once finished chopping, put the knife down.

11)pick up the tong and hold it with your dominant hand.

12)pick a piece and put it on the white plate. Continue doing this for all the pieces.

13)now pick one and eat it and offer one to your child.

14)once finished eating together, put the skin in the rubbish bin/compost bin.

15)now invite your child to have a turn.

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With an older child, proceed to wash the dishes in the sink.

(as S is still very young, I cut the ends beforehand and make a small cut on the sides so it is easier for her to peel. Once she masters this I will teach her to cut the ends herself)

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Practical Life Activities

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What are “Practical Life activities”? and what’s their purpose? 

Based on Montessori’s observations, at this age toys do not satisfy the child. What she needs are things that require her maximum efforts. In the previous months, the child’s goal was to exercise her hands and master her body movement. Now, she needs to “conquer the environment”. For this purpose, she wants to do “what she can do as soon as she can” to master the world. She begins to watch and imitate what her parents do. Montessori introduced the term “cycle of activity” and defined it as “exercises which are complete in themselves, even if they have no direct outer purpose… but are preparation for the activity which is to come… children do these things that seem useless, with great care and interest. They seem useless to us but the child is preparing himself and learning to coordinate his movement” (take pouring water as an example which prepares her for later activity of cooking/baking). The purpose of cycles of activity is not only to assist in coordination of movement but also to indirectly prepare her for later actions, to deepen her concentration, and to develop “constancy and patience” in her. Each sequence in a cycle of activity has a specific learning purpose and repeating it over and over again helps the child to get engaged at a deeper level. Montessori believed what the child needs now is to work with “structured materials” that allow her to imitate the adults in the environment and to follow her natural interest in completing cycles of activities. For this, Montessori introduced “practical life activities”, activities that are real and relate directly to adults’ everyday life (e.g. food preparation, dusting, washing dishes, baking, etc). Such activities are selected based on what adults do in their everyday lives. Their purpose is “to respect the possibilities of human life as found in the small child”. This means the adult is no longer a servant to the child but he/she is an educator that is using practical life activities as means for developing collaboration between the both of them.

(Please refer to chapter six of Montessori From The Start book by Paula Polk Lillard to explore this concept in more depth).

When are practical life activities introduced?

Montessori suggested around 15 months of age when the child can independently walk. This is only a guide. S took her first steps around 15 months of age. It means for her it has to be when she is confident to walk steadily on her own.

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How should we set up a practical life activity?

When preparing/setting up practical life activities we must use materials that are real, child size, suitable for the job, durable and safe, and allow independence and repeated practice. Once we gather them we must think every step of the practice through from the child’s point of view. When we break down a simple activity to a number of small steps we realise how complicated our every day actions are and how much concentration and effort the child needs to carry out the task.

Once we gather the materials we put them on a tray in order from left to right and invite the child to watch us carry out the activity. We perform the activity slowly exaggerating and emphasising on each and every step. We position ourselves next to the child (not in the front) on the side that she can see better (usually to her left). Once we finished demonstrating we invite her to have a turn. It is important to follow the same sequence every time we demonstrate the same activity so she can remember but as she practices over and over she will develop her own system and explore it in her own way. Remember, the end product is not the purpose and the child is not interested in the finished job, the process is important (e.g. when wiping a table she enjoys the actions, she is not looking for a dry table). As she practices she becomes more proficient and she will get there in her own time. At this point, we must step back and do not interfere. We allow her to become deeply engaged. Praise and comments takes away her concentration and distracts her to get back to where she was, a simple smile is enough to show her we are happy with her effort.

Through repetition the child learns to correct herself because of the feedback loop between the brain and the hands. We must be patient and allow the child to take all the time she needs in her self-formation.

I will be sharing some practical life activities that I have set up for S in a separate post. I will break down each activity into small steps that makes it clear how important it is to demonstrate clearly each and every step to the child.