Educating the Whole Child: Practical Life
Practical life activities are basic, vital, and continuous, though they take different forms at different ages. They appeal to the sensitive periods for order and control and perfection of movement. In the toddler class there are little steps to practice going up and down, clothes to practice putting on. Children help prepare fruit snacks, and a wondrous sight is a child, not-quite-two, carefully taking time, putting a table cloth over a little table for snacks, then adding flowers for elegance.
In the primary class, much practical life has to do with adapting to the environment. Children learn to snap, button, tie bows, shine shoes, scrub tables, dust, polish, and sweep. They cook food and sew buttons. They learn forms of good manners in our culture, such as shaking hands, closing doors quietly, and not interrupting. These activities are designed in a sequence of steps, through which the child comes to realize order and logic in activity. Concentration (watch a little one wash a table!), care, exactness, social awareness, independence, cooperation, coordination and self-esteem are some of the qualities that grow through the practical life work.
In the elementary classes, practical life relates to the community outside the school. “Going Out” involves more than ordinary field trips, as the children plan, prepare, make arrangements, write letters, whatever is necessary to explore a museum, a factory, a farm, a library. The sensitive period for order seems to have vanished by 6 (you will notice this at home, too), but projects like planning celebrations and baking bread appeal to elementary students.
In the middle school classes the practical life activities of the elementary years continue, but young adolescents also practice new practical life tasks. In addition to daily time for individual classroom jobs and responsibilities, the class schedule includes a unique weekly community lab. Students take on service learning projects in our local community, go on local field trips, cook & enjoy meals together, work on special projects, and sometimes just play. Each year the students work closely with the teachers to plan the end-of-the-year overnight trip. The middle school program also includes an advisory time during which they discuss, learn, and reflect upon ideas, issues and techniques that will help them develop as better learners and people. For example, personal organization and time management become valuable practical life skills at this age; teachers help students find the styles and practices that work best for each person.