When we think of practical life for children, I think we often think of children 3 and up. However you can start very early, and in our home we like to start as soon as they can walk. The first practical life activity is usually for them to self-feed and to go pick things up for us such as their diapers, their shoes...
We do practical life to help our children gain control and better coordination of their movement but also to gain independence and adapt to our society. In Maria Montessori's own words:
“The exercises of Practical Life are formative activities, a work of adaptation to the environment. Such adaptation to the environment and efficient functioning therein is the very essence of a useful education.” ~ Maria Montessori
“Any child who is self-sufficient, who can tie his shoes, dress or undress himself, reflects in his joy and sense of achievement the image of human dignity, which is derived from a sense of independence.” ~ Maria Montessori
Here is a more detailed list of what Theo can do at 13 months and how we have prepared the environment to help him to do it himself.
In the bedroom, these are the shelves for Matisse (yellow) and Theo (white). The shelves are accessible for both of the kids and although Theo cannot do much yet, he will grow into it very fast. We are using some IKEA drawers and each drawer is labeled with what is inside with a drawing, in English, and in French. At this point, Theo loves socks and will bring me socks when I ask for them. I am working on him bringing me his diaper but as soon as I remove the dirty diaper he likes to take off running so I am thinking we may skip that I go on to pants next. He cannot grab his shirts yet as he is a bit too short but should be able to in the next few months.
Some days, I will leave for 2 minutes and he will go through everything and it will look like that! And that's ok! I just pick it up and show him how we do it and try to get him to help me! Surprisingly he doesn't make a mess very often!
He loves to go grab a book from the bookshelves in his bedroom and bring it to us to read. We use forward facing low bookshelves so it is easy to grab and they can more easily see the book. He cannot grab the books on the higher shelves yet and they are intended for Matisse. Utensils, plates and glasses
The utensils, plates, and glasses are housed in a low drawer in the kitchen. All the boys can pull the drawer open and take what they need from it. Theo loves grabbing a fork (even when it is not food time!) and as he grows he will be able to pick up more utensils!
This is part of practical life and developing their independence, and one that you can start very early. Around 6 months he started self-feeding with his fingers on little chunks. Around 8 or 9 months we offered him a spoon however we saw that he had a greater interest in forks so we let him use it while eating. Starting at 1 he started self-feeding with the fork he would pick.
We are still using a high-chair for him, however, soon, we will move him to a booster on a chair with a step stool. This will also help him be more independent! If you can have a Tripp-Trapp chair or something similar, they are amazing, however they were not in our budget. Wiping the table
After meals we offer him a cloth wipe and show him how to wipe his table. This is clearly a work in progress and will need a lot more practice!
Food from the fridge
We have a fridge with no freezer, which means we have very low shelves. We laid out the lower shelf to be kid friendly so it has mostly snacks they can grab when they want. Here is Theo grabbing the grapes. He is happy to bring them to his learning tower or his high chair. He cannot open the door yet but I will open the door for him and he loves helping himself! The learning tower
He loves his learning tower and will go up when he wants a snack during the day, when I'm cooking, or when the older boys are helping me. He also likes using it to "help" me do the dishes. This is one of the best things in our kitchen and we built it for Alex 5 years ago and it has been used daily since then by every one of the children. The Laundry
All of my kids have always loved helping with the laundry and Theo is no different! He loves helping to put clothes in the washer. The big boys love to do the same and also putting the soap in and turning the machine on. Shoes
He loves going outside and loves shoes. So he is very good at bringing me his shoes when I ask him. We have a full mud room and each child and adult has a section for their shoes, coats, bags... The Vacuum
We have a small handheld vacuum that Alex and Matisse sometimes use after meals. They now enjoy it however when they were little the vacuum scared them. That being said, Theo loves the vacuum! It is impossible to vacuum (even with the big one) without him following us around! So we let him play with the little one and push it around. It is a great introduction to vacuuming and he should soon be able to do it!