Montessori Elementary Homeschool Blog - with documentation of our infant Montessori, toddler Montessori, and primary Montessori experiences; as well as preparation for the upcoming adolescent Montessori homeschool years.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Exercises of Practical Life in Our Home - Primary

The Exercises of Practical Life are the oddest subject area in Montessori.

On the one hand, they can be entirely overlooked because it's not "academic" (it is academic and necessary for a child's development, but that's not the point to this post ;) ).

On the other hand, they are easiest to WAY OVER-DO - getting into areas that aren't, well, practical. This is where we start getting into the area of "independent learning activities" that aren't really Montessori. Useful, perhaps. Interesting, perhaps. Not going to harm your child, most likely. But NOT Montessori.
And can definitely over-burden a homeschool mom who "just wants to do it right" but sees everyone's ideas and thinks they are all necessary. No, they're not necessary - this is where you can have some creativity if you like, but it is NOT necessary!

Exercises of Practical Life: think practical. What is practical for YOUR life?

Montessori = Keys.

We actually started with old medicine droppers
at home - transitioned to glass ones later.
You can see our "supply shelf" in the back!
Home versus school = small available space.
(it could be argued that schools need to follow the same guidelines because they have more children who have less time with the materials than homeschoolers have, but I am writing about MY home right now :) ) .

Therefore, in our home, we stick with the practical exercises of the "Exercises of Practical Life" album.

At primary, that meant we had the following throughout our home - not all in one place:

Preliminary Exercises (any special materials introduced here are removed when the child is competent at the related activity)
How to Carry a Working Mat
How to Place a Pitcher
How to Carry a Tray
How to Roll a Working Mat
How to Put Down a Chair
How to Sit On a Chair at a Table
How to Fold Napkins - basic - styles added later in elementary
How to Pour Grain (dry pouring - something with weight - removed when competent with pouring)
How to Pour Water (wet pouring - removed when competent with own pitcher in the fridge)
How to Fold a Dust-cloth to Put Away (we just used the regular dust-cloths)
How to Fold a Dust-cloth to Dust (just used the regular dust-cloths)
Transfer with Eyedropper - liquid from one bottle to another (related to polishing)
Clothespin on edge of a jar (removed when starting to competently hang clothes in such manner)

Care of Self
How to Wash Hands
Snap Frame
Hook and Eye Frame
Button Frame
Buckle Frame
Zipper Frame
Bow Frame
Lacing Frame – V Pattern
Lacing Frame – X Pattern
Lacing Frame – Linear Pattern
Safety Pin Frame
Combing Hair

Care of the Environment
How to Dust a Table
How to Use a Dustpan and Brush
How to Sweep with a Broom
How to Vacuum (kid-sized vacuum)
How to Wipe Up a Spill
How to Dust Leaves
How to Polish Glass, Metal, Wood - I had separate trays, but the processes are streamlined for function within the home. 
How to Care for Plants
How to Wash a Table AND counter
How to Wash Cloths
How to Iron
How to Arrange Flowers
How to Make Basic Food items (orange juice, fruit salads, pbj sandwiches)
How to Wash Fruits and Vegetables
How to Peel & Cut Various Fruits and Vegetables
How to Bake (a toaster oven is ideal; we did not, so he did everything EXCEPT when the over door was open - that part was my job) --- a primary aged child can help make almost anything from cookies and muffins to salads and sandwiches - even pizza! 

Grace and Courtesy
How to Walk Around A Mat
How to Introduce Yourself
How to Apologize
How to Observe
How to Draw Attention
How to Accept a Compliment
How to Blow Your Nose
How to Sit on Upholstered Furniture appropriately (still working on that one!)
How to answer the door

Control of Movement
Walking on the Line - rolled up ball of string - stretched out when ready to use
The Silence Activity

Visual Art
Rubbings (Exploration of Texture)
Cutting - Snipping
Cutting - Lines
Advanced Cutting
Contour Drawing with Crayon (Exploration of Line)
Drawing with Colored Pencils
Cutting and Gluing (Exploration of Space)
Painting (Exploration of Color)
Sculpting (Exploration of Form)
Beginning Sewing
Sewing a Button
Advanced Sewing – Running Stitch
Basic cross-stitch
Exposure to crochet

Others adapted for our home: 
  • Grating soap
  • "Guard" when Mama makes soap (have the vinegar and water buckets ready for accidents)
  • Safety precautions around home-made soap
  • Holding and carrying lit candles
  • Other candle-care
  • Cleaning the inside of a fridge or freezer
  • Using tweezers to pick up small items - this was a novelty experience, but taught the use of the tweezers when needed for medical purposes. Other than medical or dissections, tweezers just aren't used here. 
  • Rock sorting within a set of tackleboxes - this was very nonchalant - his work but not on a shelf of its own within "Montessori" work. 
  • SPUR OF THE MOMENT activities that did not become permanent in our home: washing rocks, sorting shells
  • Chores appropriate to age and ability
  • Using other kitchen utensils - we just taught/learned as needed, not with a specific tray activity
  • Stringing buttons - or any other activities that are not typically done ROUTINELY in real life. Something that is done once in a great while (ie stringing popcorn for Christmas decor), is taught at the time it is needed. There is NO need for a tray activity for such activities. 
  • Art activities - again learning what is needed in the moment after he'd all the basic art lessons from the EPL album; including play-dough, clay, painting, drawing, gluing, etc. Beyond the basics I did NOT have a tray activity for everything. He knew where the supplies were (organized in a simple, Montessori-like manner) and he knew when he had free time to create as much art as he wanted. 
  • Other games - we like to play lots of games here - so many things that some people put on trays and use as an independent learning activity, we just used as games. Repeatable, but not necessary to have on a tray and called "school". 
  • "Inspired" unit studies that last for a time, but are not permanently on a tray or shelf. 
  • Cultural experiences as appropriate - related to books being read, people visiting, videos watched, people or animals met. These were not permanently on display, but cycled back into our regular life (ie chopsticks are in the utensils drawer). 

We did NOT have the following - either space or philosophy:

  • polishing shoes (it is in the albums, but we just don't have shoes to be polished)
  • anything with those little pom-pom, warm-fuzzy things. They have NO weight, so serve little purpose when applied to real life. We used cotton balls with polishing and these needed to be replenished, so there was plenty of work to do with carrying weight-less items. Activities that others have created are cute, but when do you ever spoon or tweeze soft weightless objects in real life? These activities are novelties; not harmful, but should be kept to a minimum (and Zero is an acceptable amount ;) ). 
  • trays for EVERYTHING. It's just not necessary. Many things at home can and should be done in their proper context. Yes, sometimes a preliminary presentation is needed and that might be on a tray for a while; thereafter, the materials are kept where they belong (whisks belong in the utensil drawer) and are used at appropriate times. No tray needed :) 


  1. I would love to see more of these kinds of posts because I am at a loss for where to start and what is actually necessary (when you mentioned you have a small space, we live with my in-laws in one room!). I am that homeschooling mom who is overwhelmed! AKA: Thank you for your amazingly informative post.

  2. Thank you for the feedback! I love to hear what people actually want to see on this blog (and my others!) :)

    I have our infant and toddler versions of this post coming up later this week :)

    Tiny spaces: we've had more often than not, including during times of long-term travelling; and practical life is nice in that it can be spread throughout the home or life areas (so practice pouring works in the kitchen or bathroom (bathtub time if needed!)); then the child has their own small pitcher in the fridge to pour their own water or juice from. I used to portion out my son's milk and juice for the day into his own pitchers; he could pour from them when he wanted, knowing that he had only water after it was gone (he had a third pitcher of water, but I would refill that one as needed).