Back to Practical Life: Making scones


As the semester progressed last Fall, I started feeling more and more unhappy because Astroboy was fighting the work period.  I would too if my teacher asked me to do the same thing every day.  For me, I had wanted to read to him daily and do Sagebooks.    But it is no fun when it’s a must-do rather than a choice.

I was also reminded of how important it is to do practical life with the children watching Waldorf Mama work with her children.  In Montessori, Practical Life is the foundation for all primary work because it cultivates concentration and trains the hands.  While I knew that, I again was not following the philosophy because I felt anxious about the Chinese and not meeting his needs in math.

Sometimes I know that whatever it is I’m doing isn’t what I want to do, but I don’t seem to be able to stop myself from the momentum I gathered.  But as always, a pause in homeschooling during the holidays provided an opportunity for me to reset myself.

For the new year, my New Year Resolution is to 1) not be on the computer during the work period and 2) do more practical life with Astroboy to help him with his fine motor skills.   It is hard not being on the computer because sometimes I run off to print a worksheet or look up some information and that turns into a 3 hour trip on the Internet.  However, cooking is a sure way for me to not look at the computer.

Today, Astroboy and I made scones.   My good friend Glass Mama also Montessori homeschools and once I watched her having her 5-year old child show us how to make Dutch pancakes.  Watching him opening ovens and putting in a hot cast iron pot, scampering up their counter to take down a super large plate, and bringing said plate to the table in an off-handed manner nearly gave me a heart attack.  But he didn’t break any plates nor burn himself.

I realized that I have to give the children more credit.  It’s obviously a judgement call.  But if they’re shown the proper way and slowly work up to it, they can do more than what I think they can.  The other thing is environment.  Without an environment designed for children’s height level, tools designed for their smaller hands (For Small Hands is a good resource) it is often hard for children to cook.

The third is trust.  I forget that it took me years of practice to reach the fine and neat movements I use in cooking.   Especially in the beginning, their motor movements are very rough and jerky.  It’s taken me quite a few years to accept this as the norm, not something to correct.  It takes a lot of will to stop myself when I see them not beating the eggs properly or having trouble opening cans or cutting apples, to bite my tongue and not offer my help or tell them it is a hard thing to do.  (I don’t want them to whine and say “This is hard!” and yet I find myself telling them that all the time!)   Pausing that extra 5-10 seconds before I butt in has helped.


So yes, we made chocolate chip scones today bought from Trader Joe’s today.  I curbed my impatience and had Astroboy stir the dough and scoop them onto the baking sheet.   I even had him put the pan into a warmed up oven by himself, my first.   I did take it out of the oven for him though.

And then I ended up munching on most of them throughout the day because they were so delicious!


  • Chocolate chip scones –  巧克力司康餅 qiao3 ke4 li4 si kang bing




Making Hot Chocolate

Pouring milk

Pouring milk

The last few weeks, Astroboy has been getting up earlier than me and roaming around the house with nothing to do.  Sometimes he’s really good and puts on a jacket and feeds the cats (it’s his morning chore), before I get up and nag him to do it.  (Yes I know.  I’m trying really hard not to!)

But I finally got tired of it and decided it is time for him to learn to make his hot chocolate.  Especially after my last post where I reminded myself that I need to remember to break down steps and take it one step at a time.   He drinks it every morning now because our house is like 60 degrees when we get up in the morning.

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Half Hearted Practical life for the lazy mom

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?

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.

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