Montessori at home 16/01/14 (including how to get your kids to do their own dishes)

I’ve been reading a lot about Montessori lately. I’ve also expanded the repertoire of activities or “works” in the house, and will share some of those eventually, but in the last couple of months I’ve come to realise that what’s important (particularly at home) is not having a shelf full of practical life works, but incorporating more Montessori principles into everyday life.

Ok, really there’s only one principle to worry about: “Teach me to do it myself.” This covers just about everything. And no, it doesn’t mean my 2yo is out mowing the lawns just cos he wants to learn how – sensitive periods, developmental stuff, and common sense obviously matter quite a bit too (hence the reading, so I know what’s good at what age; what I can expect and what’s unrealistic, etc – I’ve also been reading about brain development etc which really helps).

We’re nearly at the end of the summer holidays. I had been frantically preparing works for the boys, anticipating Lord B needing schoolday-like structure at least in the mornings or he’d go insane. The first couple of weeks were a bit tricky, especially with family events, Daddy being available more, and complaints of “why is it aaaaalways holidays?” on Christmas Day. But with St Nicholas Day, Christmas Eve, and Epiphany came presents, largely in the form of train tracks, trains, and tractors. Between those, riding balance bikes (Sir A’s legs are finally long enough!), and playing the sandpit, the boys slowly worked out how to spend all day together without wanting to kill each other, and without long periods of boredom.

To be sure, there were times when they wanted to pour inappropriately, cut up things that were not made to be cut, and once I found them gluing their building blocks together. Those were times when I was most grateful for my Montessori shelf so they could get out those desires in a more desirable way. There have also been a few occasions where we’ve had to forcibly part them to give them space – not easy with Mr “Personal-space-is-an-urban-myth”. But mostly, they’ve just played, I’ve been able to get on with what I need to do, and all have been content.

So how have we Montessoried if not with tonnes of activities? Well, like I said, occasionally I redirected them to do some work such as cutting or gluing. This often led to wanting to do more work as they rediscovered the shelf, particularly puzzles, making patterns with geometric shapes, a little maths work for Lord B, and a few other bits and pieces. They’ve done quite a bit of painting (finally got that organised), Lord B started a nature basket, and they’ve done some flower arranging.

But mostly it’s been the little things. Sometimes they’ve wanted to help with the laundry. Lord B learnt how to handwash his favourite shorts for times when he just couldn’t wait for me to wash them (he’s much better about waiting now hehe). Lord B has become an expert at strapping himself into his carseat. They’ve both become really good at tidying up at the end of the day and Lord B automatically puts things away during the day too, especially his clothes, which get changed often (Sir A really needs to learn this one – the house is constantly littered with shorts and undies cos he takes them off to do his thing, stays naked or half naked, then gets fresh clothes when it’s unavoidable to get dressed again). Sir A is much better at dressing himself. One afternoon they practised cleaning their teeth by themselves. They’ve helped with baking, and both can now make an omelette with minimal help. They get all their own drinks, peel and chop their own carrots, make their own sandwiches, “wash” the car, “water” the garden. Today Lord B vacuumed the playroom very thoroughly, looking for all the spots he missed and working till it was done. Sir A acts thorough when he vacuums but misses most of the dirt, sweet chap.

And my personal favourite? They wash their own dishes. Lord B as a matter of course; Sir usually needs reminding and/or help, but they both do it for any meal where the requisites are available. See below for details.

Step one: have space in the dishwasher (doesn't always happen, especially in the morning cos like I'm going to empty it before they've finished breakfast. I don't do mornings). Step 2: place a tub with soapy water and some sort of cleaning utensil on the open door. Yeah, probably not good to leave it there for extended periods, but it weighs less than a tray of dishes. I also put a small bowl there for any little scraps - big scraps get put in the fridge if no one else wants them.

Step 1: Have space in the dishwasher (doesn’t always happen, especially in the morning cos like I’m going to empty it before they’ve finished breakfast. I don’t do mornings).
Step 2: Place a tub with soapy water and some sort of cleaning utensil on the open door. Yeah, probably not good to leave it there for extended periods, but it weighs less than a tray of dishes. I also put a small bowl there for any little scraps – big scraps get put in the fridge if no one else wants them.

Step 3: Child removes scraps, washes dish, and places in dishwasher. At this stage they just use whatever space they can reach and I rearrange when I pack everything else in. I have a very specific system and plus it's hard to reach the whole tray when it's pushed in. Step 4: Mummy doesn't have to sort out dirty dishes of anyone but herself :)

Step 3: Child removes scraps, washes dish, and places in dishwasher. At this stage they just use whatever space they can reach and I rearrange when I pack everything else in. I have a very specific system and plus it’s hard to reach the whole tray when it’s pushed in.
Step 4: Mummy doesn’t have to sort out dirty dishes of anyone but herself 🙂

A final point: apparently till around age 6 it’s unrealistic to expect them to have particular chores other than generally taking care of their environment and taking responsibility for their clothes and toys. This is because until around that age they aren’t really interested in results, just the process. For example, washing the same plate 10 times and leaving the rest is probably much more meaningful to them than having a dishrack full of clean dishes – they learn through repetition. At first I was trying to get them (well, more Lord B cos he’s older) to do things like clean the shower, but he couldn’t care less if it’s clean; he just wants to spray that lovely spray bottle. At times they show great interest in completing a task, like vacuuming a whole room, or hanging up all the small pieces of laundry, so I take full advantage of those times. But if they have experienced what they needed to before the job is done I just have to deal with it and not push it. I’m still working on balancing that with not letting them half-do stuff all the time, but I think at this stage what’s most important is insisting on the important stuff like tidying up at the end of the day and slowly increasing how many household jobs they do or help with.

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