One thing I love about Montessori is that it encourages even very young children to help care for the classroom / home. This is called “Practical Life” in Montessori classrooms, and is considered just as important as academics (check out my friend Natalie’s post about Practical Life here!)
Many people think that children should start helping when they’re five or six, but the thing is, they are not always as willing at that time. Why not catch children when they want so very badly to be doing everything we’re doing?
Most toddlers very much want to help. Is it actually helpful? Well no, not always, but it is so, so worth it. Allowing your toddler to help gives them purposeful work, which builds concentration and self-confidence.
It also shows them that they are valued members of the community. If you help your little one form the habit of helping very early on, he’s much more likely to be willing to help when he’s older.
Every child is different, but here are three things my 16 month old currently loves helping with.
Unloading the Dishwasher
This is probably his favorite household task right now. Before he helps, I make sure the dishes aren’t too hot and I take out all of the knives / anything sharp. He then hands me one thing at a time and I put it away. He unloads pertty much the whole lower level and some of the top level (he’s very tall).
Similarly, he loves helping unload grocery bags and the washing machine.
Whenever there is a spill, James points to the table or floor enthusiastically. I ask if he knows where a dishtowel is and he runs to get one. He then wipes the spill. He is not very effective at this yet, but he loves doing it and it’s a great habit to form. It helps to keep a sponge or dishtowel where your toddler can reach it.
Putting things away
Children go through what Maria Montessori called a “sensitive period for order“. This is a time when they are fascinated by the organization of things and love everything to have a place. This lasts from birth to five, but generally peaks from 18 months to 2 1/2 years old.
I noticed James reaching the sensitive period for order by how carefully he arranges his food on his plate and by how he began to occasionally put things away. As soon as I saw this interest, I began asking him to put toys and books away regularly and he enjoys returning them to their proper spot. This is much easier for children if everything they use has a precise spot in the house where it belongs.
Other practical life tasks I hope to try with James soon are peeling banana slices, watering plants in the backyard, and sweeping the floor. For Small Hands has a wonderful selection of cooking and cleaning tools for little ones.