In Montessori classrooms, self-care is considered just as important for young children as academics. Learning to identify their physical needs, and begin to take care of them, is a huge step for these little people—and we are sometimes the biggest thing standing in their way.
We’re so often in a hurry and it’s so much easier to do things for children, but slowing down and helping them do it for themselves, has huge benefits. It encourages independence and self-confidence as the children realize all of the things they can do on their own.
Here are some ways Montessori teachers help young children learn self-care, and how you can use them at home.
Make it accessible
For children to help take care of their own bodies, the necessary materials have to be within their reach. If the tissues are way up high in the bathroom, how can a child blow her runny nose? If the diapers are in the closet, how can she get one when she needs it?
Try putting the things she needs for her physical care down low where she can reach and include her in the process.
Take your time
One of the main reasons adults do things for children is it’s often a lot quicker. It can take a lot of time and patience to wait for a 2-year-old to put on his own shoes. It helps to think of this time as an investment. Yes, it takes longer right now, but with lots of support and practice, your child will be able to do so much on his own, making things a lot easier in the future.
It can also help to think about these daily self-care activities, like diaper changes and dressing, as a time to slow down and connect, rather than something to rush through to get to the fun stuff.
Alert your child of the need
Young children are still figuring out their bodies and they may really not notice that their nose is running down their face or that their hands are covered in dirt. Try telling them, in a neutral voice, and then inviting them to help fix it.
For example, “Susie, your nose is running. You need a tissue. Do you remember where they are?”
Give just a little help
Think about doing a task “with,” rather than “to” a young child. The key is to walk the line between doing everything for them and letting them get so frustrated they no longer want to try.
This can be tricky because it’s different for each child, and can even vary throughout the day—a child may be perfectly capable of putting his own shoes on in the morning, but need a little more help when he’s tired at the end of the day.
Watch your child and offer the minimum amount of help he needs to succeed. Sometimes it’s enough to just sit with him while he struggles.
If you’re ready to try these steps at home, these 10 self-care activities are a great place to start!
1. Nose blowing
Starting as young toddlers, children can help wipe their own nose. You can set up a little tissue station in your child’s room or in the bathroom. You’ll need a tissue box, mirror, and small waste basket.
If your child likes to pull all of the tissues out, try a little basket with just two or three tissues in it to start. Show your child how to blow and wipe her nose, checking in the mirror to see when her face is clean. Make sure to include hand washing after she’s done.
2. Helping with diapers
Even babies of six months can help with the diaper process by holding the clean diaper until you’re ready for it, or bringing the diaper once they’re mobile. Babies also enjoy helping to pull wipes out of the container. Older babies can help push their pants down and help pull the tabs to remove their diapers.
3. Hand washing
You can give babies a warm, wet washcloth and let them help wipe their hands before and after eating. For toddlers, you may provide a step stool so they can reach the bathroom sink, or a basin of water on a small table to wash their hands in.
Whatever setup you choose to use, show them all of the steps: wetting hands, using soap, rinsing, and drying. For older children, it can be fun to include a nail scrubbing brush or lotion as part of the process.
4. Dressing and undressing
Support your child’s growing independence by encouraging him to dress and undress himself. Pushing down his own pants and taking off his own socks can be good tasks to start with. Have a little laundry basket available for your child to put his clothes in.
Choose clothes that are easy to put on and take off—as cute as they are, steer clear of things like overalls and tricky belts while your child is learning to dress himself.
With practice, toddlers can master the entire dressing and undressing process, including shoes. With colder weather approaching, you may want to check out the process too, an easy way for children to put on their own coats.
5. Brushing hair
Provide a soft brush and a mirror within your child’s reach so she can practice whenever she wants. You may want to include a couple of barrettes or a headband for her to practice with as well.
6. Brushing teeth
Your baby can start helping with tooth brushing as early as six months, if he has teeth. At this age, you’ll want to brush first, but giving your baby a turn afterwards makes him feel like he’s part of the process. As he gets older, you can show him how to put just enough toothpaste.
7. Getting a drink
Try making water accessible to your child all of the time. You can set out a small and glass on a low shelf or table in the kitchen where she can access it. Alternatively, you could set out a water dispenser with an easy spout for her to use. Make sure to include a little sponge at your water station and show your child how to dry spills.
8. Preparing food
Children get so much satisfaction from helping to prepare their own food and it’s great for concentration and fine motor skills.
Some really simple activities to start with are peeling banana slices and spreading peanut butter on toast. Try setting up a small bowl with just enough peanut butter at first so he doesn’t use the whole jar.
9. First aid
While you would of course take care of your child in the case of a serious injury, there’s no reason she can’t help with little scrapes and cuts. Try preparing a little tray with a couple of band aids and alcohol swabs. Show your child how to unwrap the band aid and let her do it herself.
10. Lotion and sunscreen
Why not give your little one his own little bottle of lotion or sunscreen? Show him how to squeeze out just a little bit and how to rub it in until he doesn’t see any white. A mirror will be helpful for this activity. You might want to start with small, travel size bottles until he’s able (and willing) to use just a small amount.
Involving your child in these daily tasks will help him become more confident and independent over time. It will show him that you see him as a capable person who can participate in household activities and help take care of himself.