Montessori at home
In my experience kids always want two things. One; for you to get something for them and two; for you to leave them alone so they can use said thing by themselves. Independence is so exciting for toddlers and, let’s be honest, the concept of independent children is pretty exciting for parents too. It just takes a few little tweaks of your home and you can turn toddler enthusiasm into something that can really work in your favour. In the Montessori world this is called a Prepared Environment. But it’s kinda just good sense.
Let’s start in the kitchen. The first and simplest thing you can do in the kitchen is give your toddler the ability to get themselves a drink. All you need is a little jug full of water on a small table and the kids’ cups in an easily accessible place. It really is that simple but in so many houses children have to ask an adult to get a drink for them. This creates more stuff for parents to do and denies kids the extremely useful opportunity to lift, poor and, more often than not, wipe up after themselves. All these things are great activities for chubby hands learning to hone fine motor skills and they also build little muscles in preparation for holding pencils.
And then there’s hygiene. Imagine you are hanging out in a giant’s house trying to brush your teeth and wash your hands at their sink, using a stepladder. Now imagine that every so often a mum giant face palms you with a tissue for no apparent reason. I’m guessing you are getting pretty outraged right? Well, that’s kind of what being a toddler is like. If you have some space in or near your bathroom try getting a little table or bench and popping a mixing bowl on it. Now you have the perfect wash stand for your little human. Add a soap dispenser, a pile of face cloths, a nail brush, a box of tissues and a mirror and you have created a space where your toddler can wash, wipe, blow their nose and clean themselves in complete comfort. They may even choose to spend time there instead of your lap while you’re trying to pee. No guarantees though. Check out my DIY Toddler Washstand Post. Montessori at home
What about their clothing? Toddlers love clothes! Gumboots, undies with Elsa on them and woolly hats. All of these things have been known to illicit some seriously proud little faces. And if they get to put these things on all-by-themselves, the attached pride skyrockets. If you store their everyday clothing (like undies, t-shirts and pyjamas) close to the ground then they can start the whole getting-dressed process without any help from you at all. You also need to make sure the drawers are not too full; overstuffed drawers are difficult for little people to deal with. Kids who are too small to actually dress themselves can still choose which clothes to wear and, more excitingly, help put away their own washing! Creating this habit seriously can’t happen early enough.
Let’s talk toys. When the dinosaurs, blocks, cars and books are all over the floor at the same time, toddlers cannot get their heads around dealing with it. And if all those things don’t actually have a home then they couldn’t pack them away if they tried. Simply having more storage than toys will make a huge difference to your toddler’s ability to look after their own stuff. But if you want to take it to the next level, I dealt with this problem with a lot of culling, one high shelf and a bunch of wire baskets. All the really bitsy toys like train sets, instruments and blocks now live out of reach so if the kids want to play with them, they have to pack away all the other stuff before I will get a new basket down. It seems a bit opposite to the independence message right? But their independence (packing away) is instantly rewarded (different toys lifted down) and I don’t have to nag them to clean up.
Now it’s time to get them helping us. Toddlers love to be ‘helpers’, they get so much out of feeling like they are making your life easier, even if they are actually doing the opposite, so think about those things they usually help with and see how you can streamline the process. Do they like helping with nappy change time? Then pop the wipes and a pile of nappies somewhere down low so they can grab them for you. Do they enjoy watering the plants? Then have a small watering can under the sink where they can get it themselves. What about pets? Can they fetch the food, brush or lead themselves? If not, think about another place these things can be stored.
But there will be mess. So, having an independent toddler can also mean letting go of some control around the place. Yes, there will be spills and streaks, fingerprints and puddles and that’s why you’re going to need to arm them with some child sized cleaning supplies and cheer them on as they get to work. We like to keep the tea towels in a low drawer in the kitchen so the kids can wipe up mess painlessly. Also, having a washing basket with no lid means the kids can easily pop dirty stuff in it. They love to use the mini dustpan and brush and I love to watch them do it. I, of course, have had to adopt a healthy attitude towards how clean things actually are after the kids have ‘cleaned’ them. Check out this post about letting kids make mess.
Look, I know that some of you will be thinking, no freaking way I’m leaving jugs of water and wet wipes out. I get it. I have a toddler and a preschooler. Montessori at home
But… and it’s a big but. What if pulling wet wipes out of the box is giving your child the sensory stimulation they need right now? What if emptying their drawers constantly is teaching them to use their little arms in a different way? What if you let your eager-to-help two-year-old put away their own washing and, just maybe, they turn into a child who has totally mastered the art of looking after their stuff? I’m thinking it’s worth a shot.
Update: My children are now 5 and 7. They unload dishwashers, put away their own laundry and provide 100% of the care for our birds and chickens. They are very messy (but know how to clean up) and I no longer have control of their toys (high shelves are no match for them anymore.) Now we practice Montessori by following the child and encouraging them to really look into their interests.