These tasks are called “practical life”—they’re just as important as language and math for young children.
In Montessori schools, children are responsible for taking care of the classroom. They are not generally assigned chores, but each child cleans up after himself and children are eager to help with things like dusting, gardening, and washing the tables and chairs.
These tasks are called “practical life” and they are considered just as important as language and math for young children. This kind of work builds concentration and independence, and also refines fine and gross motor skills.
Taking care of the environment also gives children a sense of purpose, which can be hugely beneficial to a child’s self-esteem and his behavior. Contributing in a real way makes him feel like a helpful person and he often acts accordingly.
Practical life activities are easy to replicate at home, as there is never a shortage of home tasks that need doing (if you have a shortage, send them to my house!) Next time your child is running around with excess energy or acting a little wild, try getting him involved around the house. Give him purposeful work to use up all of that beautiful energy.
Here are 10 chores your young child can be successful with all by herself.
Sweeping is a great one to start with. Even young toddlers can successfully sweep the floor with a child sized broom and dustpan if you show them how. If your child isn’t yet coordinated enough for the dustpan, sweeping leaves off of a deck or porch can be a great place to start. Once he has mastered sweeping, you can also show him how to mop or vacuum.
2. Folding laundry
While some things, like sheets and big blankets, can be tricky for children, separating and folding things like washcloths and napkins is definitely doable. Sorting socks can also be a great task for little ones.
3. Setting the table
As long as everything is in their reach, even very young children can set the table. If you’d like to encourage your child to help in the kitchen, try clearing a low kitchen shelf for the things she needs to access. She will enjoy the task more if she doesn’t have to keep asking for your help.
4. Feeding pets
Many children love taking care of animals. If you have a pet, try storing the food in a large Tupperware with a scoop and let your child take over this daily task. If you have a really young child, you may want to separate out only enough food for that day until he’s able to control the amount.
5. Raking leaves
This is a great gross motor activity to get all of that energy out. Just make sure you have a child-sized rake available so that your child can be successful (and safe!).
6. Watering plants
Show your child how to test the dirt to see if a plant needs watering. Then show her how to water at the roots. Once she’s mastered watering the plants, you can also show her how to trim dead leaves and how to wash the leaves of house plants with a little sponge to keep them fresh.
7. Window washing
This is a really fun one! You’ll need a drying cloth, small spray bottle, and small squeegee (the ones designed for car windows are perfect and can be found at stores like Home Depot). Show him how to spray, squeegee, and dry and watch him clean every window and mirror in the house!
8. Scrubbing outside toys
Encourage your child to keep his outdoor toys clean and beautiful by washing them regularly. You’ll need a little scrub brush, container for water, and a towel to dry. You can also provide soap if you wish. You may want to give your child a little apron to keep his clothes dry. The beauty of this one is once he knows how to scrub, and has the tools, he can scrub pretty much anything. This could include big things like a swing set, or little things like his Legos.
9. Making her lunch
Children can make their own lunches, with varying degrees of independence, from a young age. You will likely want to start with offering choices, such as letting your child choose one “main food,” one fruit and one vegetable to put in her lunchbox. Your child can also make simple things like a peanut butter sandwich, help wash fruit, etc.
This is an especially great thing to involve your child with if she’s going through a picky stage. If it’s too overwhelming to think of doing this every day, start with just the weekends or once a week until your child is more proficient with it.
10. Sharpening pencils and crayons
Try showing your child how to use a little sharpener to keep his pencils and crayons in working order. Make sure to show him how to empty the sharpener too, to avoid a big mess.
These chores are only the beginning. Watching your child will show you which types of tasks she’s most interested in helping with and you’ll start seeing all sorts of things she can do on her own. Helping with these responsibilities will encourage her to become more independent and will give her a sense of pride as she sees all of the ways she can contribute to the home.
Tips for Success
Especially with a young child, even if she is interested in helping, she may lose interest in the time it takes you to gather the things you need. Gather everything she’ll need to complete the task before you mention it to her. For example, if you’re asking her to help sweep, make sure the broom and dustpan are where they should be before you ask her. It’s also important to have child-sized tools, like small brooms, whenever possible.
Invite the child
In Montessori, we “invite” children to have a lesson. The goal is to entice them to want to participate. If your child feels like he’s being forced to help or it’s a punishment, he will naturally resist. You also don’t have to make it a choice though. Try saying something like, “Johnny, there’s a big mess and I need a helper. Please bring the broom.”
Give a lesson
Briefly show your child how to do the task. With young children, it’s best to do this without talking, as they can have trouble watching and listening at the same time. We call this the “silent lesson”.
Step back and watch
After you’ve shown her how, try to resist the urge to correct how she’s doing it or quickly redo what she’s done. It will likely not be perfect at first, and that’s okay. The important thing is that your child is helping (and eventually, her help will actually be helpful ).