Before Astroboy was born, I used to get very frustrated at the fact that Practical Life with Thumper was not what I’d read in books. (I had a lot of misguided ideas.) Weren’t kids supposed to be mopping the table at 2 or 3? (Note the word “supposed”.) By the time Astroboy arrived, I’d figured out a few things. Given that I’m kind of messy and a bit lazy by nature, we did not really have a proper environment set up for the kids to consistently do it.
If you read Montessori from the Start, the author Lillard talks about creating a child-friendly, child-sized environment for your baby. Floor on the bed, hanging mobile, only a few toys in baskets on the floor, a place for the children to get their own clothing that is limited to about 2-3 choices, their own low table and small chair to eat. I was so sleep deprived, I just never got around to it except the floor on the bed. We had an Ikea child-sized table. But Astroboy seldom ate there because his sister was old enough to sit at the table with us.
I ended up doing what I like to call “half-
ass hearted” practical life. I let go of the other things I’m supposed to have. We started with a utensil area in the kitchen for the children and eventually added a water area for the children, a small mirror above the sink, and most recently snack serving stations. Whenever I got around to it, which was usually a year later than I started wanting it, I set them up. E
These are things any family can add to their kitchen setup. They don’t have to attempt more than that, but the other things kind of naturally follow. Even if you don’t follow Montessori philosophy, having these stations setup will probably makes your life so much easier in the long run.
Practical Life in Montessori is just things that are daily life skills. She talked in her book about how appreciative one school child was to be finally shown how to blow his own nose so he doesn’t have to have someone else do it. It’s setting up an environment, and showing the children how to care for themselves.
You can do Practical Life in a half
ass hearted way by just following the rule of put things the children use at their level. Practical Life is not there really to make my life easier, even though that is why I’m drawn to it. In our album, the aim of Practical Life is order, concentration, coordination, and independence. It isn’t necessarily: “learn how to fold laundry”, or “learn how to set the table”. It’s there to empower the children and answer their cry of “Me do it!” To help with these 4 aims, I try (though fail often) to add two more things to the “presentation”. One is how to get the material out, and the other is to how to return them. For example, to teach the children to do laundry, the important part isn’t to show them how to push the buttons. It’s the 3 step process of showing them how to put the laundry in the washer, how to start the load, and how to get that laundry out. Following a sequence of actions is a great preparation for kindergarten.
Our Practical Life environment
Small serving area
The serving area in our kitchen has some breakable plates, non-breakable Korean type bowls, some small pitchers and bowls, and utensils. When Astroboy was young, the nanny was the one who had to shoo him away when he was in the “likes to drop things” phase. His personality meant that he would watch you if you gave him a proper demonstration of how to carry things, so that phase did not last too long. I find that kids may hold breakable items in a way that gives you a heart attack and say, “Noooooooooo! Be careful!” But more often than not they will not break them. It does require an eagle eye and supervision for maybe 1-2 years, when they’re acquiring their motor skills as a young toddler. And trust.
Do things break? Yes. So many glass cups have broken in our house. That’s why we just buy the Ikea ones. Using metal bowls or plastic bowls definitely makes life much easier. But after the umpteenth times, it doesn’t phase me anymore, or get me mad. I have come to accept that children will break things or spill things, or drop food on the floor. The adults will sweep up the glass when they break. But I will point them to the mop or the broom when they spill food or water and say, “沒關係，擦一擦就好了. It’s okay, let’s mop it up.” . My anger comes partly because the children has now made a mess that I have to clean up. When the responsibility is shifted to the person who made the mess, I feel so much better.