Exercises of Practical Life - Characteristics of the Materials

Some of this applies more to classrooms; the lovely thing about practical life is that it starts in the home, so homes already have the natural lay-out they need to meet the child's needs in this area. Just have items out in the proper areas for the child to practice these skills (pouring happens in the kitchen or bathtub; shoe polishing can happen on the porch or balcony, etc). 
  • familiar to the child, having been seen at home and elsewhere.
  • culturally representative of all the children in the environment
  • presented in sequence of graded difficulty for each individual child (i.e. chopsticks and forks are present for a mix of children including western and oriental cultures, but the appropriate tool is presented first to the appropriate child, then switched as a later exercise for each child).
  • physically proportionate to child, sized such that they are maximally useful for him
  • somewhat fragile to encourage control of movement, yet functional and useful for the child.
  • Psychologically appropriate materials demonstrate an obvious use, as the three year old child does not have abstract thinking as such; toothbrushes should not be used in polishing as the tendency is to brush one’s teeth with it, for example.
  • maintained: clean, complete and intact.
  • attractive to the child, as an invitation to the will and an inspiration to act. 
  • can have embellishments such as functional decorations which serve to clarify use of the materials, i.e. a tiny embroidered shoe on the shoe-polishing cloths, or a leaf fabric as the duster handle for dusting leaves. 
  • Solid color fabrics and materials are preferred over prints unless the print directly relates to the activity, allowing the child to see the coordination of materials needed for a given work. Children associate these things - so learning to count with a seasonal item will lead to an irrational connection. 
  • independent sets of materials with all the needed materials together in one place so that the child can easily locate the needed materials and begin his work (most of us think of trays here - it doesn't have to be trays, but that's the idea ;) )
  • aprons should be sorted in such a way that the appropriate apron is easily located, either folded with the material, or hanging near the material with proper color- or print-coordination. 
  • Exceptions would include having only one area for all brooms, dustpans, hand-brushes, mops and such – with these materials, the child knows where to go for everything needed to clean up a mess.
  • one of each given work (not two trays of glass polishing)
  • but similar sets of materials, i.e. pouring of grain and of water; separate, similar polishing sets for wood, glass, and metal. 
  • Each set of materials should be differentiated from others in color, size, texture, shape or placement, so that the child can more easily identify which aprons and cloths, for example, go with which materials.
  • within a presentation, the items are color-coded to one another, aiding the child in knowing what belongs together. Everything does not have to be the same color, but there should be enough similarity for the child to readily recognize appropriate grouping. - so wood polishing on a wood tray, with a wood oilcloth ring, with a wood bowl to hold the cotton ball
  • The separation of objects from tools should reflect the natural set-up of the home life. For example, a shoe is not kept with the shoe polishing set, since shoes are naturally kept by the door or in a closet of some sort; fruits and vegetables are stored in a separate dish on the counter or in the fridge, not in the drawer at home with the peeling and cutting instruments. This more realistic set-up keeps the motivation for activity practical and more readily applicable to home-life.    
  • The exercises move from simple to complex on the shelves and in order of presentation - left to right and up to down (adjust for your culture's order of reading - this is an indirect preparation), i.e. pouring grain before pouring water, dusting a leaf before plant care, folding napkins before setting the table, using familiar objects before using less familiar ones. This is a key concept in the materials, above all others, in how the materials are laid out in the exercises of practical life as well as other areas in the room.
  • The materials should be displayed almost like a window display, attracting the interest of the child. All similar items should be together and in developmental sequence, for example all polishing should be together in order of developmental sequence, all pouring together, etc. and everything should be within the reach of the child’s eyes and hands.

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