When a child engages in the Practical Life area of the Montessori classroom, he is developing his independence. By tending to his environment and increasing his responsibility to care for his surroundings, he is realizing and becoming increasingly confident in his own capabilities and practicing positive disciplines that he will carry well into adulthood.
But your child can develop this confidence at home, too! When he is engaged in your family’s home life – participating in day-to-day responsibilities and responding to a family member’s needs the way a parent instinctively responds to a child – the child feels an extreme sense of ownership and inclusivity. He begins to understand, too, that he is not merely one who needs tending to, but he is in relationship with you. He has responsibility over his home and his life just like we do, and he trusts that his family is in partnership with one another. Making this valiant shift produces amazing results in the child’s behavior and confidence. When he feels included, he believes in himself the way he should.
Let’s take a look at possible routines your child can begin to increase his confidence at home.
Routines at Home
Starting around age 2, there are many activities your child can participate in to help care for your environment. Not only do these activities help to build fine motor skills, they help the child feel a sense of pride and responsibility over their surroundings!
Dusting plant leaves: You will need to provide a small paint brush, a small ball of wool, or a small cloth. Then, show your child how to move very carefully around each leaf, placing one hand under a leaf to support it and using the other hand to move the duster back and forth over the top of the leaf until shiny.
Cleaning windows: You will need to provide a small spray bottle filled with water, a small squeegee, and a soft cloth. Invite your child to spray a window down with water first, then pull the squeegee down the window from top to bottom, and cleaning up any excess water with the clean, dry cloth.
Hanging up cloths on a clothesline: After cleaning windows and wiping down plants, your child will have wet and dirty cloths to hang! Provide for your child a small drying rack, opened up for him and placed in a convenient spot in your home, and a basket of clothespins alongside the rack. When your child is finished using the cloths, encourage him to fold each cloth over the line and secure each with a clothespin. He can then return to the rack when he’s ready to use the cloths again!
Pet chores: Allow your child the responsibility to feed your pet every morning or night. Keep your pet’s food in a cupboard that is reachable for your child, provide a scoop with the appropriate measurement of food, and provide for him a step stool to a nearby sink where he can fill the water bowl each day. Keep handy, too, those same small cloths to wipe down any water spills while tending to the pet!
Making snacks: Your child will love the opportunity to prepare and serve himself lunch or snack. On a reachable shelf in your pantry, keep snacks and tableware your child can use to prepare a snack for himself. Decide together which snacks you will offer each week and walk through how to make a peanut butter sandwich, for example.
Putting away dishes: Either from the sink or the dishwasher, offer your child a dry towel to wipe down tableware one by one and place in their rightful cupboards. Perhaps assign him first silverware or cups, and create a system in which he can alert his family once dishes are put away, and create consistency. Perhaps it’s your child’s responsibility to clean out the dishwasher every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, for example.
Sweeping the floor: Offer your child a broom at a correct height for his size, along with a dustpan, and hang a hook somewhere in the home where he can keep his broom. Just like with dishes, assign a certain time of day where he sweeps the kitchen floor after dinner or snack, for example.
Intervention vs. Interference
As your child increases his independence at home, your inclination might be to step in and correct him as he works or to join him in his efforts. But these are not always thoughtful interventions! In a Montessori classroom, assistance is central to the child’s work environment, but it is only done so upon keen, pre-meditated observation of the child and with great practice, preparedness, and patience. The relationship between teacher and child is always well thought-out and intentional.
For clarification, to “interfere” is simply to disrupt the child’s work because you are not satisfied with how he cleans the window, for example, but to “intervene” is to methodically and thoughtfully direct the child, presenting to him so that he can grow in his work and develop pride for the work, not depend upon you for it. If you assist your child positively, your interventions will internally motivate him and, in the end, promote a much stronger emotional bond between the two of you. He will come to see that you trust him and believe in his ability to complete a task, and your bond will only strengthen as he grows in his independence.
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