One of the main characteristics of a Montessori environment is the inclusion of Practical Life activities. These kinds of activities reflect the practical skills that help us in our day-to-day lives (does the name make more sense now?). Everything from zippering a jacket to watering a plant or setting the table all fall under this category. Young children are capable of and interested in learning these skills, so why wait to teach them?
Here are a few things to keep in mind when implementing Practical Life at home:
1. Use real, functional (and breakable) tools. When you cut an apple for an afternoon snack, do you use a dull, plastic knife? You don't? When you hang a new frame on the wall, do you use a toy hammer? No? If we want children to learn real skills, we need to trust them with real tools that actually get the job done. This often means glass and metal objects that have sharp edges. I'm not saying that we should give our toddlers hammers and nails and let them loose, which brings me to my next suggestion...
2. Try to match your child's size, skill, and interest. Think carefully about what your child can do safely and successfully, and make it into an activity. Do you have a 10-month-old? Give her a small cup with some milk or water in it and let her learn how to drink from it. How about a 2-year-old? Give him a few socks from the dryer and let him match them. A 4-year-old? Show her how to pour her own cereal and milk in the morning (and how to clean up any spills). Eventually, you won't need to do it for her anymore. You can also build upon a skill or kind of tool over time. Start by letting your child slice a banana with a small butter knife (very easy and very safe), and slowly build toward other kinds of slicing activities as he becomes better at it.
3. Choose activities that are relevant and helpful to your family. Once upon a time, Montessori children would learn how to scrub clothing with a washboard, , and even grind and brew coffee for visitors (you heard me right!). Are these skills practical anymore? Some argue that they are, and if your child attends Montessori school you may see more of these "old-fashioned" activities. But at home, offer activities that make sense for you. Instead of the washboard, for example, teach your child how to load the washing machine.