Practical Life and Purpose

By Middle School Teachers, Bill Reed & Sarah Weber

Seventy years ago, Maria Montessori said this about the Practical Life Curriculum:

“When we speak about the behaviour of men and animals, we refer to their purposeful movements. This behaviour is the centre of their practical life. It is not just the practical life in a house, cleaning rooms, watering plants, etc., that is important, but the fact that everyone in the world must move with a purpose and must work, not only for himself but also for others. It is strange that man's work must also be work in service of others; if this were not so, his work would have no more meaning than gymnastic exercises. All work is done not only for ourselves but also for others. Even...dancers, who perfect their movements with so much trouble and fatigue, dance for others. Tailors who spend their lives sewing could not wear all the clothes they make themselves. Yet tailoring, like gymnastics, requires lots of movements.

"If you have a vision of the cosmic purpose, that every life in the world is based on this movement with a purpose, you will be able to understand and better direct the children's work. In the beginning, children are urged by nature to be active. They are happy when they are active. They begin to develop the behaviour of humanity with its limits and its possibilities. Movement is closely connected to psychic life; we must move with intelligence, will, character, etc.” (Montessori, Maria. The 1946 London Lectures.)

In the Children’s House classrooms, Practical Life is mainly about four things: care of self, care of the environment, grace and courtesy, and the manipulation of objects. The goal of the Practical Life curriculum is to prepare the child to manage the skills that allow them to be independent. They learn to dress themselves, pour their own drinks, clean up after themselves, and treat their peers respectfully.

As they grow older, they master many of these skills. The older child gets much satisfaction from using practical skills to serve the community. Contributing to the life of the group is just as important to the elementary child, as acting independently is to the Children’s House student. So the types of “purposeful behavior” that needs to be practiced adapts. At this age, students establish committees and take charge of cleaning and maintaining the school environment. They plan projects, outings, and parties for the class. They care for class pets and plants.They serve as safety monitors during after-school pick up. Time management is an important life skill in our fast-paced world. The upper elementary child develops “executive skills" like tracking personal work assignments, monitoring choices using weekly and monthly planners, estimating the time needed to complete projects and assignments, and problem-solving conflicts within their communities. The goal is for them to develop the more abstract Practical Life skills that allow them to work with purpose in their current community, and in their communities to come. The Upper Elementary classroom provides the controlled, prepared environment for them to do that well.

Fridays With Fabi - 1

By Fabi Benitez, Senior at Cristo Rey High School and SJMS Intern

 St. Joseph Montessori School is unique from any other school. Children are responsible for their own tasks to be completed. This is not a playing environment, it’s a working environment. Classmates will engage together in a class activity with the teacher(s) and then continue the day to improve their spelling, writing, reading, and math skills. Focus is key when working on an activity. As an intern, I am amazed on how smart and concentrated the students are. They are committed to completing something with purpose and are self-confident about their work. The teachers perceive themselves as a guide to help them, but the students are learning and pushing themselves to strive for better. 

Parent Development Committee Will Be Contributing to the SJMS Blog

The SJMS Parent Development Committee will be contributing to the SJMS blog during the 2016-2017 school year addressing common issues parents face during their children's development. Entries will be submitted by teachers on the Parent Development Committee, other SJMS teachers, professionals who work with children, and parents like you!

Teachers on the Parent Development Committee:

  • Eunyoung Chae, Primary 2 Teacher
  • Michael Graham, Erdkinder Teacher
  • Sandra Matheny, Music/Band/Choir Teacher
  • Bill Reed, Middle School Teacher
  • Pen Ripke, Children’s House 3 Teacher
  • Carolyn Thomas, Children’s House 2 Teacher
  • Bethany Torres, Children’s House 3 Teacher

If you have any topics or themes that you would like us to touch upon, please email Bethany Torres, the facilitator of this committee, at, so that the issue can be addressed.

The Explosive Kindergarten Year



By SJMS Children's House Teacher, Molly Murphy

Many parents ask themselves about the importance of Kindergarten in the scope of children's house. Their child becomes the wonderful age of five and they are faced with the complex decision…Do we stay in Montessori for his/her Kindergarten year? We all know young children are resilient and are often faced with change and transition. Unlike many adults, children handle change with grace and stride. Yet, we must heavily weigh what makes the most sense.

When choosing a Montessori education for preschool, it was made clear that this type of schooling was taught in a three year cycle. When looking at the vast array of early childhood research, children ages 3-6 are always grouped together. These ages are progressing from concrete to abstract in all areas. As Montessori put it they are in the same "plane of development.” They are taking all the skills they mastered as infants and toddlers and refining them to be successful school age children. That third year in the classroom is when everything clicks or comes together. Our Kindergarteners have become critical thinkers and problem solvers. They are role models in their community and are confident to take on tasks on their own. They have become well rounded learners ready to take on the most challenging of tasks.

Speaking of being a role model, the opportunity to be a leader in the very place you were once a conscientious observer, is priceless. The SJMS Kindergartener now becomes a teacher to their younger peers. As they give presentations and help others, they are building independence and autonomy that is often missed in other educational settings.

When transitioning to another school there can be lag time at the beginning of the year as the teacher is taking time to assess each child to see just where they are academically. In the Montessori classroom, this is not the case. The child and the teacher(s) have known one another for a long time and there is a mutual understanding of skill level and expectations. As the Kindergarten child enters on their first day of school, they are ready to pick up right where they left off. All of the levels in the Montessori setting are based around this concept.

The beauty of the Montessori curriculum is that the materials were created to meet the needs of all children in the environment. The World Map can be used by a three year old as a puzzle where they are simply learning to associate the colors of the continents to the names. The second year child is now able to trace and color the pieces to make a map of their own. While the Kindergarten age child is now learning the names of individual countries of the continents and are able to identify corresponding flags to the countries. The concepts become part of the child, something they will carry with them forever.

As Montessorians, we are taught to take each child where they are and give them the tools to “make them sing”. This Kindergarten year is when this all comes together. They are confident and able and ready to become well prepared for first grade and beyond.

December Is the Month of Mercy

By Primary 2 Teacher, Yiseul Chung  

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Matthew 5:7

from wikipedia

In December, SJMS peace curriculum is focusing on the virtue of Mercy. As part of this week’s peace lesson, P2 students enjoyed a discussion about “What is Mercy?” and “the Mercy game.” It was fun and interactive way to help children begin to understand the virtue of Mercy.

As a class, we spent a good chunk of time, discussing “What exactly is mercy?” According to the P2 students, mercy meant…

"Being extra kind to someone." -Lilly "Being kind to your new neighbor." -Nick "Even when someone is being bad you let them off the hook because sometimes you know that they did not mean to do that." -Ian "Be nice even if they are doing something you don’t exactly like." -Nora "Inviting people to do something with you." -Atticus "Respect someone even if they don’t respect you." -Heidi

It was obvious that most students have heard the word before, but had hard time defining it. After a little discussion, we agreed that mercy is when we choose to be kind to someone, when we have the option to be mean. We also shared and contemplated on some examples of merciful moments that happened and could happen in the classroom.

We choose to be merciful to one another. We all want mercy in our lives and we want to be merciful people.

Then, we ended the lesson with the Mercy game. Here is how the game goes and this game can be played anywhere with all ages:

Pick three kids, one plays Mercy, the other two play Meanness. A child with the label Mercy stand at one end and this child acts as the goal in the game. He or she remains stationary like a statue. When you say go everyone will run to Mercy. Children wearing Meanness try to tag as many children as possible before they reach to Mercy. When a child is caught, a child is caught by meanness and has to sit down. When a child is about to get caught, they can cry “Have Mercy on me!” to avoid getting caught once. In the end some will make it to Mercy, some will get captured by Meanness.

Through the game children realized that many times in our lives we make mistakes and act in a mean way. However, when this happens you just apologize and ask for mercy. Let’s always run toward Mercy in our lives and try to keep away from Meanness.