Spotlight: Practical Life Manipulatives


One of my favorite aspects of working with a team of teachers is the opportunity to learn from the many backgrounds and experiences of my colleagues.  Nora has been a wonderful addition to our teaching team, and I’ve invited her to tell us a bit about one area of the classroom that she has been influential in developing.


Dear Parents,

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your kind and warm welcomes to Harbor City School. It has been delightful getting to know all of the children, and watching them learn and explore in their classroom environment. As many of you know, my experiences in early childhood education have been in a Montessori setting. One aspect of Montessori education that I wanted to share with Harbor City School is a Practical Life area.  This area is quite important in an early childhood setting as it lends it self, and supports many aspects of your child’s development and learning.

 Practical Life is an area of the classroom where children can explore and practice daily activities, such as pouring, scooping, spooning, squeezing, twisting, and other life skills.  Each material serves a meaningful purpose for the child as they learn to take on these kinds of tasks independently in their home and school environments. While appearing quite simple and repetitive, these materials are highly purposeful.  The children are not only practicing important life skills, they are increasing their concentration, their sense of order, hand eye coordination and independence. These repeated tasks also build self-esteem and determination as the student learns to take care of himself and the classroom.

 Practical Life also supports children’s emerging fine motor skills.  While manipulating different styles of spoons, tongs and other utensils, they are increasing their fine motor capabilities and strengthening their hands for writing.  Also, materials are deliberately placed on the shelf, according to the needs of the classroom.  They are modeled and then left to the child to practice. Each material has a special spot on the shelf as the materials move from simple to complex (complex meaning more steps in the work) and are placed left to right to train the child’s eye for reading and writing.

Although these materials are generally for one child to manipulate at a time, this area naturally supports children’s developing social skills.  Children learn how to interact with each other in positive ways and gain a sense of grace and courtesy with their environment and their peers.

Many of these tasks the child sees routinely performed in the home and can easily be transferred into your home environment.  Simply by involving your children in daily activities, such as sweeping, raking, shoveling, setting the table, cleaning, cooking, pouring, etc., they will gain a sense of independence and satisfaction that they can apply to other aspects of their learning. There is nothing like hearing a Tugboat say, “I did it all by myself!”

So far, this area has been a success and it has called the attention of many children. Since this is a new area for many of them, we have decided to introduce materials slowly, as this will give them time to understand and digest the expectations and work they are completing.

I’m looking forward to seeing this area of our classroom grow, as it is such an important part to early childhood education.  If you would like to talk some more about how practical life works, or how you would like to implement this at home, I would be happy to share ideas and resources with you.  Thanks again for all your kind welcomes and making Harbor City School a new home for me.


Nora Studley