The Arbor Blog

Practical Life

Practical Life

Practical Life is the beginning of all other areas of the classroom. It is here where the children begin to become the independent, orderly, concentrated, and coordinated individuals we strive to create not only in our classroom environment, but in their everyday lives.


The materials themselves aim to be attractive in the sense that they are familiar. They mirror exercises children see in their daily lives-spooning, tweezing, cleaning, food preparation, etc. Through the manipulation of these materials, the children gain practice in controlled movement, hand-eye coordination, autonomy, confidence, and care for both themselves and their environment.


In the practical life area, you will find a variety of exercises that strengthen the hands in preparation for writing. Most of the materials force the developing hand to hold items like spoons and tweezers using the “pincher” fingers- the three fingers required for the writing (or pincer) grip. Materials in this area are also always transferred from left to right; another preparation for writing.


Not only are the children gaining practice for later writing exercises, but they are also gaining autonomy and confidence, for which they have a burning desire at this age. Practical life work focuses on independence in many ways. The first is the ability for them to choose what work they’d like to do and where they would like to work on it. The work itself tells them when they’ve made a mistake (such as when there is a spill or some beans have been left in the bowl after spooning) so they are able to correct their own mistakes without teacher intervention. The materials also aid in independence in daily tasks such as utensil manipulation, getting dressed, cleaning up messes, and preparing food. Achieving mastery of these materials allows for the glowing confidence that comes with mastering their own environment.


The practical life area also stresses care for others and care for the environment. Through the grace and courtesy lessons (the handshake, serving each other food, eye contact, waiting patiently, etc) the children are able to practice social concepts and situations that will allow them to convey the care they have for others and their environment. By working with materials like plant watering, table scrubbing, sweeping, pencil sharpening, and returning their work to the shelf where they found it, the children are gaining an important sense of respect for their shared classroom environment while also gaining a sense of community-both such important concepts to have not just throughout childhood, but as they continue on into the adult world.





Practical Life Exercises

1. Basic Exercises

Carry a chair

Walking around a rug

Preliminary transfer of dry goods

Introduction to sponging

Pouring dry goods

Wet pouring





2. Care of Self                


Opening and closing containers

Putting on a coat

Snapping frame

Zipping frame

Button frame

Lacing frame

Buckling frame

Bow tying frame

Hand washing

Sequence of food preparation


Banana slicing

Vegetable chopping

Sewing sequence

Large bead stringing

Card sewing

Button sewing






3. Care of Environment               



Polishing glass or metal

Table scrubbing

Cloth washing

Plant watering



4. Grace and Courtesy               

Greeting and handshake

Walking on the tine

Offering assistance

Serving food

Silence game










Ways to incorporate practical life into the home


having your child help with…


  • setting the table
  • cleaning (dusting, scrubbing, sweeping, mopping, doing dishes etc)
  • plant watering and gardening
  • cooking/making play dough
  • polishing (silver, wood, plant leaves, shoes, mirrors)
  • laundry (separating clothes, adding detergent, folding)




  • independence
  • order/tidiness
  • grace and courtesy
    • looking in the eyes
    • pleases and thank yous
    • greetings (hellos and goodbyes)
    • sharing responsibility
    • helping others
    • inside versus outside bodies and voices
    • gentle hands
    • tucking in chairs
    • cleaning up messes





“Any child who is self-sufficient, who can tie his shoes, dress or undress himself, reflects in his joy and sense of achievement the image of human dignity, which is derived from a sense of independence”

–Maria Montessori