Wednesday, 20 November 2013

How do I teach my toddler how to clean up after himself? Teaching kids how to tidy, the Montessori way.

Even though I have a ‘relaxed’ interpretation of the Montessori Method, I do consider myself a Montessori Mum. One of the ways we incorporate the Montessori Method into our daily life is in our care of the home environment. This involves teaching my toddler how to clean up after himself.

"The children of three years of age in the "Children's Houses" learn and carry out such work as sweeping, dusting, making things tidy, setting the table for meals, waiting at table, washing the dishes, etc ., and at the same time they learn to attend to their own personal needs, to wash themselves, to take showers, to comb their hair, to take a bath, to dress and undress themselves, to hang up their clothes in the wardrobe, or to put them in drawers, to polish their shoes . These exercises are part of the method of education, and do not depend on the social position of the pupils; even in the "Children's Houses" attended by rich children who are given every kind of assistance at home, and who are accustomed to being surrounded by a crowd of servants, take part in the exercises of practical life . This has a truly educational, not utilitarian purpose . The reaction of the children may be described as a "burst of independence" of all unnecessary assistance that suppresses their activity and prevents them from demonstrating their own capacities. It is just – these "independent" children of ours who learn to write at the age of four and a half years, who learn to read spontaneously, and who amaze everyone by their progress in arithmetic."
-Maria Montessori, From Childhood to Adolescence

Understanding that all his daily activities have a set up, interaction and then a clean up period gives Hunter a sense of order and control which is empowering for him. Actually playing a role in all of those stages is educational and transformative. For me, the positives of this are multiple:

  • The house is generally in a neat state, with only a few toys out at a time. This is great for me as it cuts down on chaos, makes tidying for guests a breeze and gives me more time to enjoy my ‘mummy time’ when Hunter naps. Instead of cleaning up after him, he has already done it as part of his play. As far as he knows, it’s all part of the fun.
  • Toy sets are kept together, meaning no lost parts which saves us money, and saves Hunter disappointment and frustration.
  • My son understands the ideas of preparation, anticipation, and focused play. Only having a few things out at a time limits his options in one way, but in another allows him a deep and meaningful exchange with what he is playing with.In return, he values his toys, and really plays with ALL of them- again, saving me money.
  • I have read that activities like wiping the table down after a meal reinforce development in fine motor skills such as pre writing skills (bring to your mind’s eye the movement of the cloth, left to right and up and down).
  • Being a part of the household activities, such as by wiping down the table after breakfast, helps Hunter feel like a valued part of our family team. He knows that he is contributing his part, and this contribution is valued by Mummy and Daddy. We reinforce this by communicating with him that his work is important to us as well as to him.
  • The respect he has for his environment is great too. He knows what ‘clean’ is, and knows that ‘clean’ is the optimal state for his house. When spills happen, he works with me to help get the house back to its optimal state. This has been so awesome during this time of potty training, as there is so much wee to clean up…
  • A happy house is a harmonious house. Both Lee and I feel more relaxed in a tidy environment. Clutter stresses us both out. Having all three of us on board the tidy train helps maintain harmony. It also helps Hunter understand the relationship between work, order and beauty. I have an inkling that this is part of teaching Hunter mutual respect too.
  • Finally, the seeing his determination, and witnessing the accomplishment and independence Hunter experiences knowing he can do things by himself is priceless.

Having experienced setting up and putting away as part of every activity, Hunter has begun to tidy as part of normal play routine. I said ‘begun to’ because I am not a strict Montessori Mum. There are days (like today for instance) when I couldn’t be stuffed to do much organisation. I haven’t tidied away any of his toys from yesterday, or the day before (I work two days a week, after daycare Hunter has free reign to play with any toy in any way, and Daddy often gets tasked with the tidy up, which sometimes means the tidy up is left for me to do on my first day off). Right now Hunter has out all his matchbox cars, the play garage, a couple of large planks of timber to make car ramps, his trike, pompoms and robot puzzles, his teddy bear and some playdough and cookie cutters- all of this clutter is so not Montessori (and neither are half the toys either, but thats another story for another time). And yet I notice that the cars that were scattered throughout the house are all now back at the ramp. When I told him it was time for a nap, the playdough was returned to the tub and the cookie cutters put in the kitchen sink without my intervention.

So how do I actually do all of this? First, I set up his play environment so he can access the tools he needs. Just near the door to the laundry I have a stash of cleaning supplies for Hunter: a child sized broom, dustpan and brush, and a play vacuum cleaner. In the bathroom there is a pile of washcloths and handtowels, a child sized basin and fresh water and soap. These all allow him to clean like Mummy and Daddy do. And then I show him how to use them. Sometimes we simply clean up as we go, and other times I set up little play tables where we practise pouring coloured liquid from a jug into various vessels, and then we sponge up the mess and look at how the food dye changes the colour of the sponge.

"These very children reveal to us the most vital need of their development, saying : 'Help me to do it alone!'"
Maria Montessori From Childhood to Adolescence

When we prepare meals, Hunter gets his own bowl from the cupboard. Where possible he helps me prepare the food, even if that is just getting the bread and putting it in the toaster slots, or stirring the diced fruit into the yoghurt. What he can’t help with, he watches. He spends a whole lot of time sitting on the kitchen floor looking up at me as I talk him through how I am making us whatever it is we are about to eat. Once the meal is ready, Hunter carries his meal to the table, and we sit together as we eat. Finally, he takes his empty plate and puts it in the kitchen sink, and grabs a cloth or sponge and wipes down the bench. I jokingly call myself a slave driver, but the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. This isn’t child labor. This is fun for Hunter- this is learning through play.

One thing I will say, is that this method isn’t all fun and games. Hunter’s participation in the entire process takes TIME. Even though he has ‘cleaned’ the table, I still have to go over it again. It also involves a bit of preparation, such as having a pile of handtowels accessible to Hunter at all times, refilling his water station, researching and setting up games to play that involve the skills, as well as the time it takes to show him what is expected and encourage him to do it correctly. There are times when outside commitments mean I just can’t take an extra ten minutes to have Hunter help. As I said, I am not strict Montessori, but I think having a grounding in this method is worth it, because those extra minutes of preperation will give me hours off in the future- imagine, a teenage boy who can make his own bed!?! :)

"How does he achieve this independence?  He does it by means of a continuous activity. How does he become free?  By means of constant effort. …we know that development results from activity.  The environment must be rich in motives which lend interest to activity and invite the child to conduct his own experiences."
-Maria Montessori The Absorbent Mind

Through repeated tasks such a cleaning, my little man is refining his concentration, coordination, independence, and sense of order. These are skills and qualities necessary for any toddler to develop into a capable child, an empowered teen, a valuable member of adult society.

Sandi D

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