Everyday Montessori Activities
DAILY LIFE ACTIVITIES
Why are daily life activities so important?
Daily life activities are crucial for developing children because they help them to function autonomously in their environment. They are the basis of all other Montessori activities, and therefore they are the first ones a child must learn. Through these simple practices, they develop patience, concentration and a sense of order, which will be absolutely necessary skills when you start learning more complex subjects such as math, science, etc.
These are some examples of daily life activities you can do at home, including an explanation of how to carry them out from a Montessori approach.
Washing hands can be a great educational activity, especially because we don’t need any especial materials and we do it many times a day.
What we will need:
- A stool, so that the child can reach the tap easily,
- A bar of soap,
- A dry towel.
As always, we will perform each of the steps slowly and deliberately, using few words and letting the hands speak instead of us.
Hand washing is a simple activity, but doing it properly requires concentration and accuracy.
- First of all, we show the child how to open the tap without splashing and with the right pressure, and how to put our hands under the water and then close the tap,
- Then, we take the soap and lather our own hands: we show the child how to get foam all over the hand, without forgetting the back of the hand and the spaces between the fingers,
- We then rinse our hands slowly, making sure there is no soap left afterwards, and close the tap.
- Then we check our hands carefully. If by any chance we find foam leftovers (it is a good idea to leave a bit on purpose, so we can show the child what to do) we open the tap again and repeat the process.
- Finally, we take the towel, taking care not to make the floor wet, and we dry our hands well. At the end, we look at them closely, to make sure that we haven’t forgotten to dry any part of the hand.
This same process can be repeated to show the child:
- How to shower,
- How to brush his teeth,
- How to comb or brush hair…
Getting dressed and dealing with fastenings
From a very young age, children try to put on their clothes by themselves. Sometimes they have to deal with complex garments, which create frustration and force them to ask for our help.
Children’s clothing should be kept in a low drawer they can reach, which will contain only clothing appropriate for the current season of the year and for daily use (better keep those elegant tulle dresses somewhere else, unless you don’t mind them getting muddy in the park). The easiest garments to put on are t-shirts (especially short sleeved ones) and trousers with an elastic waist.
We should let the child do as much as possible on his own. For example, if he is trying to get dressed and starts crying because he can’t find the sleeve of his t-shirt, it is better to only point out where the opening is, instead of putting their arm inside it: this leaves them the opportunity to finish the task themselves, and the satisfaction of having achieved something hard (almost) on their own.
Typically, the most difficult part of learning to get dressed is mastering fastenings. Most toddlers can put on a jacket, but very few ones are able to fasten the zipper afterwards. For this reason, it is a good idea to create a fastening activity, for which we will choose a selection of garments containing:
- Hook and loop (Velcro) fasteners,
- Snap fasteners…
We will place the garments, neatly folded, on a mat or tray, and take them one by one to show the child how to use each one. As always, we will work as slowly as possible.
Younger children will be able to understand this activity better if we separate it into several different ones, learning only one type of fastening at a time. They can usually master snaps and hook and loop fasteners easily, while buttons, belts and zippers tend to take more time. Little children might try to put on all of the garments from the tray. I think there is nothing wrong with that, as long as they don’t forget to fasten the buttons themselves!
Learning how to fold clothes will be easier if we start practicing with dish cloths or small face towels. You can make this task easier by drawing two perpendicular lines in the centre of a square cloth, in order to mark the fold lines.
After a child can fold square towels correctly, we will be able to show him how to fold other garments, starting with the simplest types (socks, underwear, sleeveless t-shirts…). Another simple task we can give them is hanging shirts and dresses from hangers in the closet.
Using the potty
The sensitive period in which the child begins to be able to go to the toilet voluntarily begins between twelve and eighteen months, varying from child to child. For some children, this can even happen around the three-year mark.
From the moment when a child is able to sit upright unassisted (9-12 months) we may place a potty in the bathroom and let the child sit on it whenever he wants, or suggests he sits on the potty at regular times during the day, for example, every evening before bathing and after lunch, or whenever we go to the toilet ourselves, so the child can imitate us.
You might have noticed there are hundreds of manuals and products in the market advertised to parents as (almost) miraculous techniques to potty train your child in a couple of days; but the fact is that we cannot teach a child to control urination or defecation, since this is not a skill which can be learnt: children need to reach a certain level of neurological development in order to be able to use the potty at all times, and this occurs at a slightly different time for each individual. The only thing we can do is to accompany the child and support him during the transition from diapers to underwear. We should never try to force children to use the toilet, even if we have the feeling that they don’t do it “because they don’t want to”. It will not work, and it can cause psychological damage to the child.
What you can do is kindly try to encourage your child to use the potty. Before you start, the child should be:
- Eighteen months old (or older),
- Able to dress and undress on his own,
- Interested in using the toilet (i.e., sits on the potty without being told to, and sometimes poops or pees in it).
Signs of readiness tend to present themselves gradually, and we, as parents, will have to observe the subtle changes in the child’s behaviour and assess whether now is the right time to start potty training. In any case, you can try and see. If it doesn’t work, you can try again a couple of months later.
Modern diapers are so effective that they keep children completely dry even after they pee. For this reason, children in conventional diapers can have a hard time recognizing when they are urinating, compared to those who wear cloth diapers or normal underwear. A good way to begin to raise the child’s awareness about wetness and dryness is to let them wear underwear when at home, or, if it’s summer, just let them walk around the house naked (children love that anyway). You can also buy especial potty-training underwear, which is just slightly absorbent and waterproof to prevent puddles on the floor but doesn’t have the absorption capacity of a diaper.
When you are ready to begin, let your child choose some pretty underwear “just like mum’s/dad’s”, and explain to him that, when he wears these clothes, he has to pee in the potty because otherwise, they will get wet and dirty. Prepare some rags and a bucket of water somewhere in the bathroom, and let your child know how to use them to wipe the floor, in case it gets wet with urine by accident.
At first, it’s a good idea to accompany the child to the potty every half hour or so. It is better not to ask him if he wants to go (children who are in the middle of playing are rarely inclined to stop in order to go to the potty). Just look at the clock and say: "It is time to go potty!". If he is doing something it is best to let him finish, instead of interrupting him in the middle of an activity in order to take him to the bathroom.
Once in the bathroom ask him if he would like to pee or poop and read a book or say a poem together for five minutes or so. If the potty is still empty afterwards don’t worry and go back after half an hour or so. If the child manages to do something in the potty tell him that was the right thing to do and you are very happy, but don’t praise him excessively: the motivation to use the potty must come from inside: "wanting to use big girl’s underwear" or "peeing in the toilet just like daddy". If the child’s only motivation is to receive our applause, a regression is practically guaranteed (let’s face it, nobody is able to make a sincere ovation each and every single time a child uses the potty, for two years in a row).
During the first few days expect numerous accidents on the floor. Never get angry or ridicule the child for it. Just point out the fact that his trousers look wet and say it’s time to clean the floor (show how) and change his clothes. Don’t forget to tell him what to do with his dirty clothes.
If the child refuses to accompany you to the bathroom, starts denying he is wet or throws a tantrum when asked to change his dirty clothes, accept the possibility that he may not be yet prepared for this. Never try to force a child to use the potty: remember that your work is a simple accompaniment: follow the child. If he doesn’t have any interest in getting rid of his nappies, anything you do will be pointless. It will be better to wait one or two months and try again. Even when a child has used the toilet properly a couple of times, or even for a while, there might be a delay in his psychological maturation, which doesn’t always follow the same pace as the physical one.
In the kitchen
There are many daily life activities you can do in the kitchen with your children. We all need to spend time cooking for our family every day: in the meanwhile, we can sit the children in front of the TV, or we can consider it a learning opportunity and give them a task by our side. The only thing you will need is a clean surface for the child to work, a stool to reach the kitchen counter (always under supervision) and a child-size apron if you can get hold of one.
Washing fruits and vegetables:
Children can wash potatoes or carrots and remove dirt under running tap water. If you have a double sink you can fill one side with water and tell the child to wash the vegetables on one side and put the clean ones in the other to give them a second, more thorough rinse (this is great for smaller children, who would otherwise spend too much water).
If you are baking bread or pizza, you can put aside in a bowl a small ball of dough and allow your child to knead it or create different shapes with it on a baking tray. Afterwards, you can bake the resulting buns or mini pizzas and eat them together. This is a great sensory activity loved by all children, and a good encouragement for even the pickiest eaters.
Baking cookies is a festive and enjoyable sensory activity with a sweet and satisfying ending. Kids love to feel the dough between their fingers and try to cut it with moulds of different shapes.
- First, show the child the recipe you are going to use and read it aloud,
- Then look together for the ingredients and place them all on the kitchen counter,
- Afterwards, measure the ingredients, using a kitchen scale, a spoon or a measuring cup (for example, if you need three tablespoons of sugar, count aloud, slowly: "one, two, three tablespoons").
- Mix the ingredients as per your recipe: allow the child to mix the dough with a wooden spoon or explain to him how to turn on the food processor and what safety measures must be taken into account when working with kitchen appliances.
- Sprinkle some flour on the countertop and roll out the dough with a rolling pin. Explain how the dough must show the same thickness everywhere. Show the child what happens if you roll it too thin or press too much, as well as the way to fix it). Allow the child to try it, too.
- Finally, explain to the child how to hold a cookie cutter (if you have none, an ordinary drinking glass will suffice) and cut your biscuits. Place them carefully on a baking tray.
- I have cookie cutters with geometric shapes, letters of the alphabet and dinosaurs, and I like to take advantage of our baking sessions to explain the names of letters and shapes, using a three-part lesson.
Most Montessori shops carry special knives and slicers for children. They are usually blunt tipped and serrated, designed in a way that makes them usable but not as dangerous as a true kitchen knife. They are a great addition to your Montessori collection, but they are not really obligatory.
Some good substitutes that you probably have already at home are:
- Disposable plastic knives (you can even wash them and reuse them if they are sturdy enough)
- A slightly serrated, stainless steel butter knife, like the ones included in most cutlery sets,
- A plastic lettuce knife (see picture number 8). This can be found in the kitchenware section of bigger supermarkets.
Start by cutting soft foods on a cutting desk. Show your child how to divide foods in half by marking a slight line for him to follow while cutting.
Some of the easiest foods for beginners are cottage or feta cheese, which you can later add to a salad. Other easy foods to practice with are tofu, bananas, watermelon, mango and avocado. Ask your children to help you make a fruit salad for desert, or give them some boiled potatoes to dice as a side dish.
Other activities in the kitchen
Other fun and easy activities you can try in the kitchen:
- Press garlic with a garlic press,
- Cut hard boiled eggs with an egg slicer,
- Try using an ice cream scooper (it’s easier if you leave the ice cream outside for a few minutes so that it becomes softer),
- Make lemon juice with a manual lemon squeezer,
- Peel tangerines and split them into segments,
- Set the table,
- Help to load and unload the dishwasher,
- Help to do the dishes with a sponge and some dishwashing liquid…
Transfers with spoons and jugs
In this typical Montessori activity, we will transfer a substance from one bowl to another. It helps to develop concentration and coordination, and it teaches children to use spoons and jugs skilfully.
We will start with transfers of granular, solid objects, starting with larger ones and gradually trying with smaller items, until the child is ready to learn to transfer liquids.
Transferring solids with a spoon
We will need a tray with raised borders in order to prepare and contain this activity. The tray will also help to minimize spillage.
We will put two bowls on the tray. The first one (left) will be full of beans, and the second one (right) should be empty.
For a start, we will use dry beans or peas. Later you can try the same activity with smaller grains, such as rice or lentils.
You can start by explaining to the child the difference between a full and an empty bowl. Then, take the spoon and start transferring the beans to the empty bowl, spoonful by spoonful. If a bean falls outside, pick it up carefully, taking it between your thumb and index fingers, and put it in the right bowl.
Once we have transferred all the beans to the other side let the child repeat the process inversely.
Learning to pour
1) Pouring solids
Learning to pour water or milk with a pitcher is a useful skill that children need and use on a daily basis during their meals. We start by pouring dry beans, chickpeas or lentils. Ideally, you should have two similar pitchers, so you can transfer the beans from one jug to the other and vice versa.
Once the child is able to successfully transfer small solids from one pitcher to another, we slightly modify the activity by replacing rice with water, which is harder to transfer.
This learning material is very similar to the one before (two jugs on a tray), but we must add a dishcloth to wipe spills.
We proceed similarly, first showing the child how to pour the water from one jug to the other. Try to spill some water on purpose, in order to show the child how to clean spills when they happen.
Unloading the dishwasher can be turned into a learning opportunity by preparing a cutlery sorting activity for your little one.
Just put all the silverware in a basket and take out a cutlery divider from a drawer. If you don’t have any dividers or they are not detachable (mine aren’t) you can still prepare a sorting activity using different plastic containers, plates or baskets.
Place a fork, a knife, a spoon and a teaspoon in each compartment of your divider, so that your child knows where to put what. Then pick up a random piece of cutlery from the big basket and place it in the right group. Afterwards, allow the child to try to sort the rest of the silverware on his own.
Doing the laundry
Doing the laundry is a great opportunity to learn many and varied daily life skills. Say “I am going to do the laundry now. Would you like to help?”. Start with a colour sorting activity: first find all the white clothes, all the black clothes, etc., and put them in different baskets (or piles).
- Materials you will need: pegs and maybe a stool.
- Optional materials: a small laundry basket, a child-sized clothesline.
39: Even a young toddler can help to put the laundry in the washing machine.
Ask your child to help you put the laundry into the washing machine, or let him add some detergent powder with a measuring cup. Once the clothes are washed, ask him to help you to take the laundry out of the washing machine and put the damp clothes in a basket. Try to get a smaller laundry basket which will be easier to carry for a child, but if you don’t have any you can just use something you have at home (maybe a clean sand bucket or a big plastic bowl). Wet laundry can be heavy, so make sure children don’t put into the basket more weight than they can carry.
Go to the clothes line and show the child how to hang clothes to dry and hold them with pegs. Explain where to put the pegs to avoid leaving marks afterwards.
Consider adding a lower clothes line for your child or get a child-sized line. If you have none of this, you can try putting a stool against the wall (under close surveillance and if there is no risk of falling) to hang the laundry to dry.
Remember to respect the child’s learning curve: it will possibly take you double time to do the laundry with your child than on your own. It goes without saying you can’t expect a three-year-old to do the laundry instead of you, but remind yourself of the great skills he is learning while you spend time doing chores together!
From a very young age, children are looking forward to imitating us whenever we start cleaning. It’s a good idea to take advantage of this desire before they become teenagers and lose this interest forever!
Prepare a dusting activity by putting a rag and/or a feather duster in a basket.
Pick a small piece of furniture and show the child the dust by drawing a line with your finger. Explain what you are about to do: “This table is dusty. We are going to make it clean again.”
Then remove all objects from the table top and place them on the floor, until the surface to be cleaned is completely empty.
Wipe your table slowly and try to follow the same order each time: i.e., start with the top, then the right side, then the left side, etc.
After that don’t forget to wipe all the decorations before putting them back on the furniture.
As a control of error, we can ask the child whether he can still see any dust on the table. If he doesn’t, our cleaning has finished and we can move on to the next piece of furniture: he can also try to do one on his own if he feels inclined.
Cleaning a children’s table
All Montessori homes should have a child-sized table in the kitchen, or wherever children spend most of their learning time.
After an art activity or a meal, you can point out to the child that the table is dirty and it is time to clean it, in order to make it pretty again.
Create a simple learning material with the following supplies:
- A bowl full of water or a spray bottle of non-toxic, all purpose cleaner,
- A rag or a sponge, for cleaning,
- Another rag, for drying and polishing,
- A child-sized apron if you have one.
Step by step, show your child:
- How to moisten the table with the spray bottle,
- How to rub the stains with the rag until they disappear,
- How to dry the table with the second rag.
Jumping in muddy puddles is a great sensory activity, which, once you get back home, gives you the opportunity to explain to your children how to properly care for their shoes and keep them clean.
Create a shoe polishing activity with the following supplies.
- A small floor mat or an old newspaper to place the dirty shoes on,
- Cleaning tools (damp cloth, brush, shoe polish…),
- Dirty shoes.
First, show your child the right way to do this activity:
- Bring the mat (or newspaper) to your chosen spot on the floor or on a table, and place the rest of tools next to it.
- Take one of the shoes and remove the mud with a brush or a damp cloth. Point out how the dry mud must fall on the newspaper and not on the floor.
- Polish the shoe thoroughly with a clean rag, and add shoe polish if you find it necessary (make sure they don’t put it in their mouth because most of them can be toxic. Otherwise, try using bees wax, hand cream, olive oil or baby oil).
- Turn the shoe around and look at it from several angles, to make sure you didn’t forget any dirt.
- Let your child do the same with the other shoe.
Taking care of plants
Taking care of a plant is a fun way to encourage responsibility and discipline in children. Take your children to a nursery and let them choose their own plant. For a start, one should be enough: otherwise, it might end up being tedious for the child having to take care of so many different plants. It is advisable to ask a nursery seller to recommend you a plant which is easy to care for. In the best case it will come with watering instructions; otherwise, write down the name and research your plant on the internet.
Place your child’s plant next to a window on his working table or in another sufficiently lit place where he will be able to see it every day.
These are some activities you can carry out with indoor plants:
Let you child have his own watering can in an accessible place. He can also use a small pitcher instead. Show him how to use a stool to fill the watering can with tap water and how to walk carefully while carrying the full watering can in his hands. Then water the plant slowly, taking care not to make the soil overly damp. If you spill some water in the process don’t forget to wipe it.
Trimming dry leaves and flowers
Use children’s blunt-tip scissors to trim any dry leaves and sick parts of your plant. Collect the dry leaves in a bowl and take them to the right trash container after you finish.
You can also dust the leaves with a damp cloth from time to time.
Children love working with dirt and feeling it with their fingers. I still remember how much I loved helping my mother transplant her seedlings as a child, probably because I was rarely allowed to play with dirt otherwise. If you are going to work inside the house don’t forget to protect the floor with old newspapers; but if you have the possibility, it’s better to work in a garden or on a balcony.
For this activity, find a potted plant which has outgrown its pot, a small shovel, a larger pot, some pebbles and a bag of dirt.
- Together with your child put some gravel on the bottom of the pot and then some dirt.
- Take your plant carefully out of the old pot, taking care not to damage the roots.
- Let your child fill the empty space with dirt, using a small shovel.
- Finally, instruct him how to clean the floor if there is any dirt on it.