Many Montessori classrooms and homes feature "Practical Life Trays" or "Fine Motor Trays" that host activities designed to isolate the presentation of a specific tool or task; such as spooning or using tweezers. These are slightly different from the traditional Practical Life activities, in that they are isolated exercises not connected to a longer process working towards a real outcome, but most Montessori advocates agree that these "Practical Life Trays" have a place in assisting the development of fine motor control and concentration.
Ideally any Practical Life experience should be real, purposeful and should follow a complete a cycle of setting-up, activity and packing-up. Fine motor trays are a useful way of isolating a specific skill if you are introducing it for the first time or if a child appears to need refinement or remedial practise. However, a shelf of trays would not be indicative of a comprehensive or complete "Practical Life" curriculum. These isolated exercises need to be utilised in broader contexts that are relevant to the child's daily routines. Wherever possible please try to engage the child - whether in the home or in the classroom - in real, purposeful work that follows a complete cycle. Don't just present a spooning tray; ensure that the child is able to use a measuring spoon to gather ingredients in a recipe. Don't just provide two jugs to pour liquid back and forth; allow the child to pour his or her own drinks when thirsty. Don't just offer a sponging exercise; ensure that the child has access to sponges and the opportunity to actually clean up real spills. Using the Small Baking Sifter on a 'tray' is a great start but don't forget to utilise it in longer tasks such as cooking! Incorporating these isolated elements into a prolonged and purposeful experience is the ideal way of achieving the goals and outcomes of true Practical Life work.