Practical life activities help children gain coordination and practice independence.
Window washing. Folding laundry. Unpacking the groceries. Sweeping the floor. Are you exhausted just by reading those menial tasks that take up your priceless weekends? Chores may be dreaded by adults, but they can be meaningful learning opportunities for your child, and you can get them started at a young age.
If you were to walk into a Montessori classroom you would see a number of children doing chores—what the Montessori method calls Practical Life activities. Children are naturally interested in tasks they have witnessed, and these practical life activities help children gain coordination, feel a part of the community they live in and practice independence.
Now, anyone who has children or has spent significant time around them knows that adults can do these chores more efficiently and likely higher quality, but allowing the time and patience for your child to practice these activities will have lasting effects—and might get more than a few of these chores off your list!
When introduced as a fun part of play and learning, your child won't think of these chores as pesky tasks that need to be done, but instead as activities that make them feel like a responsible and included member of the family. But before you break out the broom you'll have to do a little prep work to set your child up for success!
Just like an adult wouldn't use a child-sized broom to sweep the house, we can't expect children to use materials that are inappropriately sized. We've listed out many common household tasks, with age appropriate guidelines, and our recommendations for child sized materials to help your child get cleaning!
Household chores for 1-3 year olds:
- Feeding pets: This is an especially fun chore for your child due to the instant attention and excitement they will likely receive from their pet. You can put the appropriate amount of food in the scoop and allow your child to dump it into the bowl. As they get older and improve their coordination, filling the pet's water bowl is another great task for them.
- Towel folding: Folding small towels is a great introduction to laundry, and a way for your child to feel involved with the process. They may want to fold and unfold the same towel over and over, but remember that repeatedly practicing these skills is preparing them to move to more difficult ones (before you know it they will be ready to fold the whole basket of laundry on their own!).
- Watering plants: Learning to take care of plants is a multifaceted task, and one that you'll need to be sure you have the right materials for your child to be successful. A watering can that your child can easily lift and carry though the house, as well as one that has a 'slow drip', will help ensure plants are not over-watered, and will hopefully limit spills (having a sponge or towel nearby may be helpful at the start). Show your child how to check if a plant needs water, and set up a schedule for watering the plants, teaching them not only how to care for the plant but a little bit about schedules and time, too!
- Putting groceries away: Allowing your child to help put away groceries can not only be helpful for you, but it's a great language and learning opportunity. Name the foods together as you take them out of the bag. When your child is unpacking the food they will be seeing on their plate later, it may just give them the excitement needed to finally try that Brussels sprout! Having a kitchen step stool or learning tower will help your child to be able to participate even more!
- Dusting: Having someone at a different eye level take on some of the dusting around the house can have its benefits. Although your child won't be dusting your ceiling fans, or probably anything more than a few feet off the ground, you may end up with some of the cleanest baseboards around. There are many tools your child can use to help dust: a small feather duster can be a new and exciting item for your child to use, simple microfiber cloths or a duster (simply remove one of the rods when putting together the handle, and voila, it's child-sized).
Additional ideas: put laundry in hamper, wipe up spills, carry in the mail, pick up toys/books, pull weeds
Household chores for 4 years and up:
- Making their bed: Although it's not going to look perfect, starting around the age of four it is realistic to assign a child to make their bed each morning. This may begin with placing their pillows and stuffed animals in the correct place, but they can work towards making the entire bed.
- Clearing the table: In a Montessori classroom you will not find plastic cups and dishes, even for the youngest of children. Dr. Montessori found that using glass and ceramic items at a young age teaches children how to use them with care and respect, demonstrates natural consequences (if I throw my cup, it will break), and encourages proper use. This means that you do not need to limit your child to clearing only the non-breakable items from the table, but instead can teach them the proper way to carry and handle a variety of items. You may not want to start this new task with the family heirlooms, but give it time and they will get there!
- Sweeping: This is a good skill for your child to have, and can be achieved relatively easily with some practice. To learn the movements needed to successfully use a broom, start by marking off a square on your floor with tape (washi tape or painters tape will not damage floors) so that your child has a "goal," and practice with sweeping up large debris at first. Show your child how to maneuver the child-sized broom and sweep the debris into the square. Working towards sweeping smaller and smaller debris, and not needing the goal, will eventually get you a helpful sweeper.
- Unloading the dishwasher: Thoughtfully planning how you load the dishwasher can make it possible to get help from your child with unloading it. Keeping in mind that breakable items do not need to be kept away from children—your child just needs to be shown how to properly handle them—you can set up your dishwasher in a way that allows for help. A kitchen step stool or learning tower may come in handy to safely reach where items are stored.
Additional ideas: rake leaves, help prepare meals, wash windows, help vacuum, folding laundry, matching socks, tidy room
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