Perhaps your young learner is starting to become interested in cooking, vacuuming, or wiping the windows? How wonderful! This is something that should be nurtured and treasured. Montessori, the educational style Kaleidoscope Learning uses for lessons and materials, is a great early childhood educational pedagogy to incorporate into your home because it has a "Practical Life" element. Practical Life is incorporating day-to-day activities and materials, such as chores and space maintenance/beautification, into your child's life. The purpose of Practical Life is to introduce to people, at a very early age, how to take care of themselves and their environment, and they can carry this knowledge into adulthood. Research shows that children who learn household chores at a young age grow to become successful adults.
How do I start incorporating household activities with my child's routine? We often hear from parents that, while they are excited that their children are showing interest in household chores and activities, they frequently become frustrated at their child's pace, lack of knowledge, or incorrect ways of completing tasks. "Why should I let my child wash the produce when I can do it five times faster and with zero water splashed everywhere?" While these feelings are entirely valid, we encourage adults to reframe their mindset: no one, including a child, knows how to do something correctly right off the bat. Give them some patience and grace; they will learn as time goes on.
To introduce a household activity to your child, have them observe you when you complete a task; usually, children are already observant of their parent's household activities (hence why they might be interested in a specific household chore). When they are ready to attempt a task themselves, use a calm time, such as play time or family time, to teach them how to complete the task (it can be unpleasant for both adult and child to complete a cooking activity when an adult is trying to get dinner on the table ASAP). Make this time special and give your child your attention. Lastly, continue to create opportunities for practicing and gently respond to your child's inquiries and technique.
The Kaleidoscope Learning team has created a list of household chores and activities you can start incorporating into your child's daily life:
The benefits of engaging a child with food preparation are numerous. Children practice basic and tangible skills such as fine motor manipulation and mathematical thinking. There are also a variety of social-emotional benefits obtained when cooking at a young age such as collaboration, self-confidence, and independence. If your child has an interest in the kitchen, start off by introducing simple tasks, like washing produce, preparing a snack on a plate, or using child-safe utensils to cut a banana. As your child becomes more comfortable in the kitchen, set-aside time to have them help you with specific recipes. A great way to engage older children in the kitchen is to have them measure out ingredients (mathematical thinking), or for them to read aloud a recipe (reading, literacy skills).
As always, make sure a child is supervised by a caring adult when handling potentially dangerous cooking items and implements.
Tip: Our Educational Materials Library has Sous Chef Towers available for borrowing. These "towers" allow children to stand at counter-height, making it easy for them to engage with cooking and their surroundings in the kitchen.
If you have any indoor or outdoor plants, this is a perfect way to incorporate a Practical Life activity with your child's routine. Especially for summer when plants and flowers are in full bloom, garden maintenance is a great gross-motor and fine-motor household activity. In the early spring, have children help you plant seeds to grow seedlings (this can be achieved by using an empty egg carton). As summer goes on, show them how to weed the garden (identifying plants, fine motor manipulation) and how to properly water plants. Finally, towards the end of the growing season, if you have plants that produce fruit or veggies, your child can use their fine motor skills to harvest easy-to-access produce (green beans, herbs such as basil, and cherry tomatoes are perfect for little hands). If you have plants that produce flowers, try cutting off a few blossoms and have your child arrange a beautiful bouquet (also encourages growth in flowers).
When children are older, you can start to incorporate biological and scientific lessons and language (such as seed germination, plant and habitat identification, photosynthesis, the seasons, and much more).
Tip: If you do not have an outdoor garden, try engaging your child with live houseplants. There are a variety of inexpensive, sturdy houseplants (such as pothos, hoya, and zz plants) that can withstand young children. Have your child water the plant, make sure it is receiving enough light, and repot the plant together if needed.
Setting the Table
A classic Montessori practical life activity is setting the table ahead of a meal. This ritual is important because it signals to the child that a meal will soon be available and indicates how many people will be joining them at the table. It also helps them identify different utensils and items utilized in eating (vocabulary). For very young children (ages 18 months to three years old), we recommend having them prepare for a meal at a table their own size. Sprout's Weaning Toddler Table (available for borrowing through our Educational Materials Library) is perfect for when your young learner wants to have breakfast, lunch, or a snack at a place for their own size. As your child gets older, try encouraging them to set the family table for all members. As they set the table, children will engage with their fine motor manipulation and counting skills.
Tips: To go a "traditional Montessori" route for meal time, we recommend having children handle non-plastic items for eating, including ceramic plates, glass cups for drinking, and metal utensils for eating.
Wiping Up Messes or Spills
A simple Practical Life activity Montessori classrooms around the world teach children is how to wipe up messes or spills. As an adult, not a day goes by where we are not cleaning up a spill or mess. We often tell children to "clean up after themselves," and encouraging a child to clean up their own mess, or even help others who created messes themselves, is a great way to incorporate a Practical Life skill. We recommend providing accessible, child size cleaning supplies children can access should they need to clean up a spill. This includes rag, a small dust pan and brush, and a sponge.
Tip: You can provide these cleaning items on their playroom shelves or in the kitchen. We recommend putting these items in a basket, while also setting out a separate "dirty" container to dispose of used rags needing washing.
Have any other Practical Life skills your young learner enjoys doing around the house? Let us know! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or stop by our Family Resource Center's open play hours and chat with one of our team members.