Practical Life is Training for Independence
The Practical Life part of our preschool classrooms is aimed explicitly at helping children become independent, so that they neither need nor are constantly soliciting the help of adults. As Dr. Montessori put it: “We must help them to learn how to . . . dress and undress, to wash themselves, to express their needs in a way that is clearly understood, and to attempt to satisfy their desires through their own efforts. All this is part of an education for independence.”
The materials are designed—and our teachers are trained—to help the child learn how to break down the required actions, to perform them step-by-step, and to do them repeatedly. As he systematically acquires skills for self-care (dressing, tying shoes, washing hands) and care of his environment (washing tables, preparing food, watering plants), the child gains independence from adult help. At an age during which he might otherwise throw tantrums over wanting to “do it all by myself,” but not be able to accomplish the desired task, he learns to do it.
The environment is a place where the children are to be increasingly active, the teacher increasingly passive. It is a place where the child more and more directs his own life; and in doing so, becomes conscious of his own powers. . . . [The resulting love] for the environment does not exclude his love for the adult; it excludes dependence. It is true that one adult—the directress—is in a sense a part of his environment, but the function of both the directress and environment is to assist the child to reach perfection through his own efforts.“