"He does it with his hands, by experience, first in play and then through work. The hands are the instruments of man's intelligence."
- Maria Montessori
Coordination, concentration, independence and order. Say it again and again. And then again. These are the skills that are the most important to learn in these primary years. A big part of the way children learn these come about in the area of Practical Life.
These are the years when a child learns to truly value hard work and becomes interested in completing the same tasks they watch the adults around them do. They see the purpose and the meaning in everyday jobs and it's the perfect time to show them how to take care of themselves and their environment. Not all at one time, or in a rushed or forced way. Practical Life is "shelf work" but it's also just being a contributing member of a family.
It's true, play is the work of the child. But calling it play sounds as though it isn't important. Call it "work", and suddenly there's weight to that. Work is what adults do. Finishing a work, means accomplishing something you strived to complete. Every "thing" a child does is work. It's important to them and we treat it as such.
It's important for children to be afforded time. Time to choose work, time to complete work, time to pick another. Oftentimes, adults see a child paused (in thought, in confusion, in contentment) and we interrupt that. We talk. We ask questions. We give unnecessary help. Children need to be given uninterrupted blocks of work time; where we don't call them away from it. Imagine getting into your groove (at work, during a project, doing something you love), and every few minutes you were called away -- for a snack, to "come here", to be asked a question, to get something from across the room. You'd give up and so will your child. Leave them be.
Children in their primary years become more interested in "academics" and it's important they have the opportunity to work with concrete materials to learn math, language and cultural studies. Workbooks and worksheets do not offer the same tactile experience and are not the best way to maintain or engage a lifelong learner. Children need to explore, categorize, and find spatial relationships; things that just are not possible with nothing but a pencil and paper.
Lessons in grace and courtesy happen around this age. More than just manners, children need to learn how to balance being themselves and sharing their uniqueness with being a part of a community. This is true whether they are in school, at home, at the playground or the grocery store. There are different guidelines depending on where they are, and children will need to learn societal norms.