The most important part of the Montessori environment is the Practical Life area because it helps the child develop. The exercises in the area involve precise and straightforward tasks, which the young child has already observed adults perform in his home; and has a natural need to imitate. These activities can be changed depending on the season, location, as well as on the development of the child. In addition to giving the child an opportunity to self-develop, these exercises provide an orientation to the customs of the child's particular society. The contents of the practical life activities should, therefore, differ from culture to culture.
Practical Life activities are the first activities presented to the child in the Montessori environment because they lay down the foundation for creating a whole child. Their function lies in the child's entire personal development, physical, mental, and moral. They help the child develop a relationship with his environment, need to take care of it, and give the child the "rules" for the room.
The purpose of Practical Life is not to emphasize practical, but life. Since the activities in this area focus on giving the child real-life experiences, the materials used to conduct the activities should be real working tools and not just toy versions of adult tools. The tools should be child-sized so that they may be grasped by a small hand and used correctly. All the Practical Life activities apparatus have their unique place in the environment, and all the things necessary for any practical activity are accessible for the child to use without any adult assistance.
All materials are arranged in a particular order, from simple to complex, and from left to right. This helps the child in the development of reading and writing skills. The child is allowed to work with each piece of material until he has mastered it before moving on to other work.
There are four different sections in the Practical Life areas; care of self, care of the environment, grace and courtesy, and movement of the objects in the environment. Each of these sections aids the child in developing their skills in a particular area.
Care of self includes activities such as proper handwashing, dressing, and undressing, blowing the nose, etc. Care of the environment teaches the child how to sweep, dust, wash dishes, etc. Grace and courtesy introduce proper communication with peers and adults, handshaking, graceful movements, etc. Movement of objects focuses on proper handling of things such as pitchers during pouring activities or carrying a tray across the room.
Practical life exercises involve precise movements of the hand and the body by coordinating sight and muscle control. They help the child to understand the process and order included in a complete cycle of activity. Concentration and inner discipline are also developing. These exercises are the foundation of later activities, and also help develop the child's will and personality. It is through the movement in these exercises that real intellectual growth occurs.