Practical Life for Infant Community
The main areas of focus in the Infant Community are language development, movement, and independence. Practical Life activities play a major role in all of these areas, and help children learn to adaptation, order and sequencing, and concentration.
Practical Life activities have been a part of the child’s life since birth. Sometimes the activities are being done to them, and sometimes the activities are being done around them. In observing practical life activities the Infant Community child seeks to imitate the adult, and learns how they can take care of their own needs and how things are done in his culture.
When a child sees an adult perform tasks like sweeping, wiping a table, washing a window, or preparing food, they wants to do those things. In the current Infant Community classroom, there is a child who always runs to retrieve the child-sized mop when they see their Guide cleaning up a spill.
When the child first enters the Infant Community, Practical Life is often a collaboration with the adult and the child. Examples include dressing and undressing and cleaning up a spill. The kind of assistance given to the child is based on the capabilities of that child. As the motor skills develop, the independent work increases and the collaborative work decreases.
The child gains control of his body and self-confidence through these activities. These activities are so appealing to the child at this age because they help children understand the logic in their movements that are involved in that precise activity. Practical Life gives the child the understanding of what movements they needs to do so the child can be successful. When carrying a pitcher full of water the child learns to slow down their movements and hold the pitcher close to their body.
Practical Life allows for repetition so children can refine their movements and make them a part of themselves. Some of the movements that the Infant Community child refines through the practical life activity is indirect preparation for what is to come later in life. For example, the circular movement that is part of washing a table is indirectly preparing the child for writing.
We look at our Montessori environment in such a way that everything is designed to allow the child to arrive to the point where they can do it by himself. As Maria Montessori said of children, “Help me to do it by myself.”
We show children how to dress in the same way that they can it for themselves – by putting on a shirt head first, followed by the arms. It is much easier for the child to be successful by learning this way.
Practical Life gives children a sense of “I can do it,” helps them to view themselves as capable and competent individuals.
Little by little, the children gain basic trust in the world because their needs are being fulfilled. Through repetition, they will gain trust in themselves.
Practical Life activities are done all around the world and might look different depending on the customs of that culture. For example, most children learn to eat with utensils; however, some children learn to eat with chopsticks while some learn to eat with a fork. Practical Life helps the child in the process of adapting to his culture and gives him a sense of belonging to his group.
Order and sequencing
Order is very important in Practical Life – not just order in the environment, but the order of sequences of each exercise to be able to be successful. For example, the Infant Community uses bar soap for hand washing, and the children learn that in order to successful wash their hands, they must apply water first for the soap to work.
Order in the physical environment is demonstrated by having a place for everything and keeping everything in its place. When the children want to use materials, they know where to find what they are looking for, and also know where to return it. Additionally, similar activities are found in the same area.
Practical Life activities in the environment must be placed where the child can independently accessed them, and must be functional, e.g. scissors that cut. Materials must be child sized and proportional.
Fostering concentration is important because concentration allows children to do their maximum effort.
The purpose of Practical Life activities is not to master the task for its own sake; rather it is to aid the inner construction of discipline, organization, independence, and self-esteem through concentration on a precise and completed cycle of activity.
Practical Life activities have a precise goal; a beginning and end, so the child can see the process of starting and finishing something from set-up to clean-up and the restoration of order. Learning to complete a cycle of activity will translate to other tasks.
Additionally, Practical Life activities have two levels of intent. The first level is the specific outcome of the activity. The second level has to do with the activity’s developmental purpose, i.e. what is happening to the child as they perform the activity. Are they developing self-control and self-esteem?