Practical Life is the daily living area of a Montessori classroom that involves the physical care of the person and the environment. Practical Life includes all the simple, ordinary, everyday adult activities that man must perform in order to establish and maintain relationships in his family or society. The activities the child will encounter fulfill an inner need in development, as well as provide the first stage of his engagement in classroom activity. These exercises are appealing to the child because they are activities he has observed in his home since his birth. He is drawn to do them in the Montessori environment because he is told to do them from within. They are simple enough for him to do successfully, and they make sense to him so that he can participate easily.
When a child enters a Montessori program, the Practical Life area is usually introduced first. These are simple and precise exercises that children have already seen their family doing. This is the entry area for new students and an area of comfort, often renewing self-confidence in the older students. The materials are skill oriented and are arranged on the shelves in logical groupings. The skills learned here increase the length of the child's concentration and prepare him for more advanced areas of the Montessori classroom curriculum.
The main purpose of Practical Life is to help the child developmentally in his work of self-construction; the basic skills he will acquire are secondary. His work will require coordination and concentration, which will lead him to independence and self-confidence in his daily life. These exercises will also fulfill his need to become a part of his society. Practical Life provides meaningful work for the child and allows for repetition (which is soothing). It helps the child develop a sense of order and responsibility. Practical Life also prepares the child for the next category of Montessori materials called the Sensorial curriculum, or education and refinement of the senses.
The activities of Practical Life are sequenced. Each lesson is built from another to form a firm foundation of skill, and the children subconsciously take in that order. They can anticipate what to do next. This sequencing also fills a developmental need in the child for order. The first activities are simple, having one step. The child cannot go wrong. Everything needed to complete an activity is contained. The activities move toward the more difficult; those requiring many steps. The child can see if he is not ready for the more complicated tasks, and the teacher can show him how he can get from one activity to another through the ordered sequence in the classroom. This order is also present in the materials used in each exercise on the tray, and in the presentation given to the child.
The Practical Life area provides many benefits for child development, with the activities needed to establish a good solid foundation for his life. The child becomes responsible and attentive to his environment, graceful and in control of his movement, and caring and careful of other human beings. He learns that being a part of this world involves responsibility and thoughtfulness.