While I am not specifically Montessori trained, I find myself aligning with the Montessori philosophies quite often as I make decisions as a parent. I believe that a lot of the Montessori practices that encourage independence help toddlers feel in control, and this will help to cut down on power struggles and frustration through early childhood.
Now that Little Lion is becoming a full fledged toddler, we are looking for ways to incorporate more Montessori teaching into our day. One aspect that I feel is pretty important to begin at this age is Practical Life, which gives children an opportunity to participate in authentic household activities that build independence and confidence. My biggest goal right now is involving Little Lion in the processes of our day. Rather than just letting things happen TO him, I want to do more things WITH him as he starts to understand more about cause and effect.
Here is a quick look at the few things we are starting to work on at 15 months.
1. Sitting at the table
We were given a wonderful little toddler table as a hand me down, and Little Lion is finally big enough to get into the seat on his own. Prior to now it has been in our living room, where the chairs have mostly served as mini climbing structures, but recently we moved it into our kitchen so that he can eat here a few times a day. Traditionally in Montessori, children would begin eating all of their meals at a table like this one (only much smaller) starting at 6 months. This is called a weaning table and chair. For our family, we like to enjoy our meals together and didn’t want to purchase a special infant sized table when we already had one that would fit a larger toddler, so until now we have used a booster high chair at our kitchen table. Little Lion still eats his lunch and dinner at the big table because we want him to be a part of our family meal times, but breakfast and snacks are eaten at his “big kid” table (Mr. Lion and I sit at the table with him and eat our own breakfast/snack).
Right now he struggles to stay seated throughout his meal, so every time he gets up we take his food away, telling him that if he wants to eat he has to sit down. This is a slightly frustrating (and fairly time consuming) back and forth right now, but I know he is learning. As is the case with enforcing any rule with a toddler, consistency is the key. I know as soon as I start allowing him to wander around the house with his food it will be impossible to enforce this rule, so I am holding firm.
When I don’t have the energy to be this consistent, or if I need to be cooking while he snacks and can’t sit right there with him, I will have him eat in his high chair instead. Also, by having him eat his larger meals in the high chair, we cut down frustration as he learns these new skills. He does not have the attention span to keep his body in his chair for an extended period of time yet, so breakfast (when he is the most hungry and more apt to continue eating without distraction) and snacks (which tend to be light) are the best time for him to practice this new skill.
He seems so much more grown up sitting there, don’t you think?
2. Using real plates, silverware, and cups
Remarkably, when we started putting LL at his little table for snacks, we were able to start giving him real dishes. We had tried this in the past with his high chair, and immediately he wanted to fling said dishes just as far as he could. For some reason, at his own special table, plates and bowls are no longer fling-worthy. Oddly, however, the other night at dinner I decided to give it a try giving him a plate on his high chair tray. It was immediately picked up and dumped. I don’t understand what makes the table so special, but we are rolling with it just the same. I am currently looking for small versions of real silverware for him, but they are not easy to find. We are also working on using an open cup. We use small glass shot glasses for this purpose, only filling the cup about a half an inch at a time. This skill is far from mastered…but we are working on it!
3. Helping in the kitchen
I have been wanting a kitchen tower for LL so that he can be with me at the kitchen counter while I cook. Mr. Lion was going to build one for us, but since he is knee deep in a huge home renovation project right now, I found a custom made one on craigslist instead. LL isn’t really to a point where he can do much helping yet, but he enjoys standing up high with me. Soon I would like to start introducing small jobs, like washing fruits and vegetables in a shallow bowl of water. We aren’t quite ready for that yet, but hopefully in the next month or two we will be. For now, I created a “discovery basket” for him to explore while he is standing at the counter. His favorite part is the egg slicer!
4. Helping with laundry
This mostly consists of me handing him something wet that needs to go in the dryer, and him placing it in the dryer. The laundry room is one of the few “off limits” rooms in our house, so as soon as the door opens he immediately wants to follow me. I am capitalizing on this interest. He thinks it is exceptionally fun to put wet clothes in the dryer. Who am I to stop him?
5. Helping in the garden
Our garden is growing like crazy, and I love having my little helper outside with me. I bring him around to the different plants, and now that veggies are starting to grow I like to pull them off the plant and let him have a taste. He also helps me hold the hose as we water the garden together.
6. Sitting down to put on shoes and take them off
In preparation for learning to get dressed by himself, we are focusing on shoes. Before we put on our shoes, I have LL sit down with me. He holds out his foot for me to put his shoe on. We are also working on sitting down to take off shoes when we get home. He is able to unfasten the Velcro at this point, but that is about it.
7. Recognizing where to go for different parts of our day
LL is pretty good at following commands, so we have been working on identifying locations in our home. For example, when it is snack time, I say, “It’s snack time Little Lion. Where should we go?” I give him a few seconds to think, and then usually he will walk to the kitchen. I also do this when it is time to change his diaper, take a nap, read a story, go outside, and take a bath/brush his teeth. Sometimes it is clear that he isn’t sure what to do, so I will take his hand and we will walk together.
8. Sitting calmly during story time at the library
This is not something that comes easily to my rambunctious little man. But it is an important skill nonetheless. Right now we stay close to the door in case screaming ensues, so that we can make a quick getaway. Definitely a work in progress. We will be participating in a weekly Kindermusik class starting this month, so I hope that this will give us an opportunity to work on this skill as well.
9. Washing hands
With the new kitchen tower, as well as a stepstool in our bathroom, LL is almost big enough to reach the sinks. Right now we are working on rubbing our hands together once we have soap. I have to do this for him, but rather than just wiping them for him, I try to hold his wrists and help him rub his hands together so that he can learn the motions. This will take a while to master, but I figure now is as good a time as any to start practicing.
10. Brushing teeth
This is another work in progress. We recently started using a fluoride free toothpaste, and we are trying to get LL to do a little of the brushing on his own. He stands on a stool where he can see himself in the mirror, and holds his brush while I brush my teeth. Usually he will think this is really fun, and put his brush in his mouth too. Afterwards I put a tiny amount on his brush and help him with the actual teeth brushing. If he fusses, I stop. I am trying not to create any negative associations at this point. Usually I have plenty of time to get a little brushing in before he decides that he is done.
Most of these things are not exclusive to Montessori education, but the practice of giving children real life responsibilities from a young age certainly is a guiding idea, and one which I feel is very important as LL begins to express his need for independence. It is fun seeing how quickly he is learning these important life lessons!
How do you incorporate self help skills/practical life into your day?
(For the full Montessori Scope and Sequence of skills you can check out this link for infants (birth-18 months) and this link (18 months and up). This is a great resource if you are wondering what children should be working on at various ages, according to Montessori teaching. I was happy to see a lot of these aligned nicely with the ASQ developmental questionnaires that my pediatrician asks me to fill out prior to each well visit, although the Montessori Scope and Sequence is much more thorough.)