EPL, the abbreviated form of ‘Exercises of Practical Life’ are simple everyday activities performed by adults to maintain and control the environment in which they live and work. These activities are utilitarian and have a purpose and are a means to the end results are important than the process. The practical life curriculum area is paradoxical and it is the area that experienced Montessori teachers count on most often to draw children into purposeful activities, especially for the very young or easily distracted children. That is the main reason to call EPL activities as settling down activities.
Basically, it is any physical activity that helps a child grow in motor skills, cognitive development, self confidence and development of his or her own personality, and most of all independence. Any controlled movement of hands, arms, legs, feet, eyes, etc. helps your child achieve independence and mastery of his or her environment. Sitting up, crawling, walking, grasping a toy are practical life skills for infants. Practical life activities give the child an understanding of his environment and how it works. The child enjoys all types of work. He also enjoys keeping the environment beautiful for all to use. This work builds the child's self-esteem, making him feel of value.
In his early years, he goes through a period when he wants passionately to learn to do all the work he sees the adult doing. At first, he likes to learn the work of the home. This age will pass, but if it is used, the child will know how to do everything well in the home environment. He will grow intellectually. It is done purposely to take advantages of the child’s desire to imitate the adult and learn to function in his own environment. Most important each exercise is a potential occasion to normalize a child and is preliminary to more advanced learning.
There are certain principles we need to follow while presenting an EPL activity to a child. The most important among all of them are the
i) ‘Analysis of movements’
ii) ‘Synthetic Movements’
By analysis of movements we mean that each activity consists of a series of individual movements which are simple in nature, a successive logical, simpler, single movement follows each movement. Analysis of movement is necessary when giving a presentation to help the child understand the movement and the sequence of the movements. Synthetic movement means performing a simple task divided into several movements to achieve an intellectual goal.
EPL has four following categories:-
1. Social Graces: In this category children are taught some common social etiquette which we need in everyday life like how to cough, how to sneeze, how to shake hands or do namaste etc.
2. Preliminary activities: In this category children are introduced to familiar activities which we do in our houses everyday like how to pour solids, pour liquids, stacking books or offering a glass or a pair of scissors and many more.
3. Taking care of the environment: Activities in this category help the child to take care of his environment like sweeping, dusting, polishing different objects etc.
4. Taking care of self: In this category, activities like shoe polishing, closing and opening different types of buttons, washing off hands are introduced to take care of themselves independently.
In each category, the materials are kept in the environment in an order. All the materials are child size and kept on low shelves so that the children can easily handle their own material and after finishing the work they can put them back into the correct places.
The exercises in Practical Life are the very heart of Montessori education as it is presenting the real life activities with real apparatus and making a bridge between the home and the school environment. As young children wash tables, pour liquids, polish silver, sweep and dust, they are developing the inner aptitudes of calmness, order, concentration, coordination, and fine motor skills. At the same time, through the process of learning to meet their own needs, learning to take care of their immediate physical environment and of themselves and through the experience of helping others, children in Montessori programs begin to develop independence, self-confidence, and self-respect. By learning to complete the work cycle and replace the materials on the shelf the children establish good work habits. They also engage in grace-and-courtesy activities that foster positive social interaction. Many people when they first visit a Montessori house may immediately notice all these but what is not immediately noticed is the role EPL activities are playing in developing functional autonomy, including the ability to choose, take responsibility for one’s self, for others and also for the environment.
For young children, there is something special about tasks which an adult considers ordinary--washing dishes, paring vegetables, polishing shoes, etc. These tasks, which to adults may seem mundane, are intriguing to children because they allow them to act as adults do. Imitation is one of the strongest urges during the child's early years. One of the child's first and fundamental tasks is to adapt and orient himself/herself to her immediate environment and EPL activities are one of the best ways to do so.
There are a number of reasons to introduce EPL as one of the first activities while a child just enters a Montessori environment. One of them is surely to normalize and make a child stable in a total new environment. The practical life activities will be those the children see done in their own homes. They will be carried out in as realistic a manner as possible in the Montessori environment. Nature urges the child to acquire these skills. The child who, as a small toddler, is allowed to help his mother in the house, and learns these skills from her, grows in intelligence, is deeply satisfied, and develops confidence and a good self-image. He knows he is doing useful work, and that his work is of value. He feels that he contributes to helping in the home. He knows he is independent and able to manage for himself.
In the Practical Life area of the classroom, the exercises and activities help children perfect their coordination as they repeat and become absorbed in an activity. Children gradually lengthen their span of concentration and also learn to pay attention to details as they follow a regular sequence of actions. Finally, through the exercises of practical life, the children learn life-long working habits: orientation to tasks, perseverance, self-directedness, satisfaction and a confidence they transfer to later academic work.
Practical life ideas help with developing motor skills, eye hand coordination, order, sequence, concentration, and independence. Most importantly, a child who can control his or her environment is a happy well-adjusted child. Constant uses of these ideas when cleaning, cooking, getting ready for the day, will let your child help become a real part of the family routine.