Many people question the reasoning or the importance behind children engaging in Practical Life activities. Some say, “They will have their whole life to wash dishes and fold laundry. Just let them play.” While play is utterly important, so is teaching children responsibilities and to be held accountable to those. Moreover, children have the inner desire to be part of their community; encouraging them in practical life activities gives them the opportunity to do things for themselves and feel live active members of their community.
Practical Life Exercises teach children the correct way to conduct daily routines of everyday life. For example, showing children the correct way to water plants ensures that they water them using the right amount of water without flooding the container. This work also teaches children that plants are something we need, and therefore, we need to care for them.
In addition, Practical Life Work gives children the opportunity to contribute to their immediate world- their classroom or home. These contributions help children gain huge amounts of self-pride in what they are able to accomplish. Watch your child as she sweeps the floor of the classroom- the look of pride on her face will turn any disbeliever into an advocate regarding the importance of Practical Life for even the youngest of children.
In order to make Practical Life meaningful to children, they must understand the importance of the activity. To continue with the above example of watering and caring for plants, the adult should tell the child, “It is time to water the plant so that it can stay healthy and clean our air.” The adult can, then show the child how much water to use, how to pour the water around the base of the plant, and how to wipe the dust from the leaves. Once the child sees how it is done, she can then take over that responsibility with adult support as needed.
Want to experiment with Practical Life Exercises at home? It’s easy. While you’re cleaning the kitchen counters, give a cloth wet with water to your child and show him how to wipe the smudges off the refrigerator/ dishwasher/ cabinets (you know you’ve got some somewhere, we all do!) Do your floors need sweeping? Remove a few links from your Swiffer pole, or shorten the end of the broom. Try designating a low cabinet to hold your child’s dishes. That way she can get her own plates, bowl, and glass in preparation for meals, and help put clean dishes away (and learn all sort of skills such as sorting and categorizing meal items). If you are feeling really brave, fill a small tub with soapy water and a small tub with clean water and let him wash his dishes after meals.
Just remember these two keys to successful Practical Life so that your child will see this work as an exciting contribution to your family and not as a boring chore (we all remember being young teens and having to put our clothes away and it was SO BORING): 1) Discuss the importance of the work to your child, and 2) Show him the correct way to do it. If you really want to have fun, do some Practical Life right along side her!
Rebecca Wilson, MS, is mother to Emogene (IC7) and is an enthusiast for all things related to young children. She earned her Bachelors Degree in Child Development and her Masters Degree in Early Childhood Education both from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. She has worked with children of all ages from birth through 3rd grade in different positions from teaching to administration to consulting. Currently, she is a grant manager for the early childhood council in Adams County.