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The Purpose of Practical Life


Practical Life is the starting point in the Montessori Toddler and Primary Environments. It’s usually where a child begins, perhaps with tidying, or pouring, or sweeping.

Why do we have these materials? What is the purpose of Practical Life?

If the purpose were cleanliness, we would probably do it ourselves. If the purpose were having everything tidy all the time, we could easily be in charge of that. It is the adults’ responsibility to prepare the Environment, so the children can do the work of preparing their Selves.

purpose of practical life montessori

Every material serves a dual purpose in Practical Life. We’re developing a physical ability, as well as an internal quality.

Stringing Beads refines manual dexterity, and task persistence. Sweeping helps children “cross the midline,” which helps the two hemispheres of their brain communicate. Scrubbing Tables develops gross motor skills, and logic.

Children love to participate, but the world is mostly, quite literally, out of their grasp. We sometimes can adjust our world to their needs, but it takes a concerted effort, and sometimes we just need to be efficient, or to complete a task and not be completely engrossed in the process.

Practical Life puts the world in their hands.

purpose of practical life montessori

There is nothing more important than sweeping this spill. You have the ability, the desire, and all the time in the world to wash these dishes. It’s okay your pencil slipped when you were practicing your handwriting, because you can scrub this table when you’re done; perhaps you’d be interested in washing them all?

Everything is child-sized. Everything is “yes.” Maybe not today, but there is nothing in the classroom that is not intended for children to use, to love, to reach out and grasp and explore and learn.

That’s why they’re here. That’s the purpose of Practical Life.

Practical Life is more than simply cleaning, or scrubbing, or sweeping. It’s the confidence and abilities to play an active role in your learning, to solve problems, to help. We’ve written about it before, and we surely will again. Here’s a podcast, for more about the Purpose of Practical Life.

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Written by:

Charlotte Wood

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