“Help me do it myself” is a common phrase we try to remember inMontessori.
Young children crave independence. They are driven to achieve it from birth. If we can help them get there, we can minimize a lot ofthe struggles associated with toddlers and young children, and empower them to feel capable andconfident in their growing abilities.
Because of Montessori’s focus on independence, parents are often shocked when they see theirchildren do certain things all by themselves at school. “My child never does this at home!” is acommon response.
Here are some examples of things youngMontessori childrendo for themselves, and how to encourage your own child to greater independence.
1. Get dressedFrom the time children enter the Montessori toddler classroom at around 18 months old, they areencouraged to dress and undress by themselves. This happens in very slow stages, with undressingusually occurring first.Montessori toddler teachers patiently show a child each step of dressing and undressing, frompushing down their pants to strapping the velcro on their shoe.To try this at home, find times that are not rushed to practice with your child. Make sure theclothes and shoes are easy to get on and off. After you’ve shown them how a few times, sit nearbyand offer theminimumamount of help they need to be successful. You might start with just a verbal reminder of what theyneed to do. He may be able to pull up the front of the pants, but need help with the back.Gradually, they’ll need less and less help.
2. Wipe their noseMontessori toddlers and young children have access to tissues and are encouraged to practice wipingtheir noses in front of a mirror so they can see when their face is clean. An adult may have toalert them that they need a tissue before they learn to complete the task alone.Children can also take care of other basic self-care activities like washing their faces, dryingtheir body after a bath, washing their own hands with soap, brushing their own hair, etc.The job might not be done as quickly or as thoroughly, but empowering your child to take on thesetasks raises their body awareness and helps his confidence grow with each new skill they develop.
3. Set the tableFrom the time they are walking, Montessori babies help set the table. This starts with somethingsimple like bringing a plate to the table or bringing over their own lunchbox.As the child grows, the process involves more steps, with the 3-6-year-olds setting their placewith a napkin and placemat, glass plate, fork and spoon and a water cup.To try this at home, use a low shelf to place a few dishes for your child. Show him how to carryeach item carefully, one at a time with two hands, to his spot at the table. He may need a stepstool to reach the dining table.
4. Clean the table and floorMontessori children clean the tables and floor when they have made a mess by sweeping up anyspills.They also often choose to scrub a table or chair or mop the floor when there is no specific mess.The children enjoy the sensorial experience of the soap and water and experience a great sense ofpride at seeing the results of their labor.To try this at home, give your child a small broom and encourage them to help you sweep aftermeals. Give them a scrub brush and spend time scrubbing their outside toys together.
5. Put away their own toysMontessori children are expected to put their own work and toys away, and they generally do sowithout reminders after becoming acclimated to the classroom.Every item in the classroom has a specific spot where it belongs and the children quicklyunderstand the expectation and social norm that everyone cleans up after himself.To try this at home, ask your young child to put away a toy when he is done with it before he getsout another one. Toddlers may need you to clean up with them, especially if it’s something likeblocks with many pieces.
6. Help prepare foodFood preparation work is often a favorite among Montessori children. The interesting thing is they love activities like washing and cutting carrots and apples even ifthey choose not to eat the food they’ve prepared. This is because they are getting to use realtools and participate in the work of everyday life in a real way.To try this at home, find ways your child can help in the kitchen, either preparing a saladalongside you or making a snack independently. Slowly introduce your child to the tools and skillsneeded in the kitchen, always watching for safety, but also giving him the freedom to work on hisown.
7. Problem solve with a friendWhilekindness and peaceful actions are always emphasized in Montessori schools, disagreements between children still inevitably occur.Rather than acting as a referee, the teacher acts as a support and a guide, helping the children totalk to each other about what they each want and need resolve the situation.To try this at home, next time your child has an argument with a friend or sibling, take a stepback and see how they handle it on their own. Step in if it’s becoming violent or escalating toomuch, but take the minimal action needed to help the children sort through the situation on theirown.
8. Play independentlyAs Montessori lessons are generally given one on one, rather than a group, the children spend agood deal of their time at school working independently, practicing the lessons they have alreadybeen given.Playing with your child is a wonderful thing, but don’t be afraid to tell her you’re unavailable ifyou need to get something done. This will help her learn to play on her own, too.To try this at home, if she’s used to always playing with you, start with really short tasks. Youmight say something like “I’m going to unload the dishwasher and then I will come play with you.”Slowly stretch the time she is comfortable playing on her own.
9. Take care of a petPets are a big part of many Montessori classrooms, in part because they let us observe biology inreal life, but also because they offer a great opportunity for the children to take care of anotherliving being.Children feed and give water to the pets daily and even help clean and scrub their habitats.To try this at home, if you have a pet at home, show your toddler how to feed it or yourpreschooler how to scrub the pet’s food bowl to keep it clean.
10. Think through a problemMontessori teachers often answer a question with a question. “Where might you look for that? Whatshould you do next? What are you missing?”This encourages children to think through a problem rather than turning to an adult for thesolution.To try this at home, you can use guiding questions in the same way at home to help your child thinkmore independently.
The journey to independence is a messy one. It is so worthwhile though to see a young child doingwhat he is capable of – helping to take care of himself and his community. This not onlyleads to independence, but gives him such a sense of purpose and pride in being a contributingmember of the group.