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I Did It All By Myself

Is there anything more rewarding than being able to care for one's own self? Help your child on the path to independence with home activities that support similar self-care "lessons" in the Montessori classroom. A little planning and a lot of patience will go far!

The most important (and the hardest!) part? Allow plenty of time for learning and practice, so your child can master new skills without pressure from the clock (and you can get to the office on time).

Maria Montessori tells us in The Discovery of the Child, "If teaching is to be effective with young children, it must assist them to advance on the way to independence...We must help them to learn how to walk without assistance, to run,...to dress and undress, to wash themselves...All this is part of an education for independence."

"Care of Self" activities children can do at home

  • Dressing & undressing
  • Washing hands
  • Cleaning one's shoes
  • Nose blowing
  • Buttoning, Velcro®-ing, snapping, zipping, tying, lacing, and buckling
  • Brushing one's hair & teeth

First things first: dressing & undressing

Good morning! Time to get dressed!
Let children choose their clothing. Give them two options—the red dress or the blue dress. This is much easier than opening the closet door and saying, "What would you like to wear today?" Make sure the clothing is easy for children to put on by themselves. For younger children, skip the belts, buckles, and buttons. Opt for easy-on/easy-off clothing. Remember, children will have to use the bathroom at school so make it as easy as possible for them and avoid accidents.

It's cold outside! How to put on a coat or sweater.
Teach your child the "up and over" method. Place the child's coat on the floor with the collar near the child's feet. The child bends down, places his arms in the arms of the coat, lifts the coat up and over his head, and voila! He's wearing his coat. See a child putting on a jacket this way.

"I did it myself!" Children love this activity and repeat it on their own. Off they run with a great sense of accomplishment, even if the coat is upside down. I still smile when I remember hoods flopping around like dinosaur tails as the children play! You can always give another lesson later. Let your child revel in the accomplishment of getting the coat on first!

P.S. Do you have a photo of your children all dressed up all by themselves? Share your pics with other parents on Facebook!

Time to change clothes! How to set up a child's dressing area.
Help your child become independent by installing hooks where he can easily hang up and retrieve his clothing. Install low rods in the closet making it easy to reach hangers. Set up shelves that are low, making it easy to reach clothing (This works for toys, sports equipment, and other activities too). Place baskets on the low shelves. They are wonderful for storing different types of clothing. Label each basket: one for hats, one for scarves, one for mittens, and so on.

Time to clean up! How to have fun with laundry.
Do you get resistance when you tell your child, "You need to put your clothes away!"? Make a game out of it, instead!
Adult: "Hmm...Where is your green t-shirt? I can't find it."
Child: "Here it is! I'll put it away!"

Try these invitations and your child will find putting clothes away as much fun as taking them out!

  • "Where do we keep our hats? Can you put your striped hat in the basket?"
  • "Where's the magenta scarf? Show me the scarf basket."
  • "Let's count the socks on the floor as we pick them up and put them in the basket!"
  • "Do you see your woolen sweater?"
  • "How many hangers do we need?"
  • "Where do we put our dirty clothes?"

Step-by-step activities for children at home

Children take great pride in keeping their belongings beautiful. They love tidying, sweeping, dusting, and all kinds of clean-up activities. Maria Montessori noticed that step-by-step activities appeal to children's sense of order, as well as support their success.

Parents can make learning easy and successful for children with a Montessori-style presentation. Break any activity into simple steps. Try it yourself first, then demonstrate the steps for your child, slowly and deliberately. Children will watch like little eagles! Use the examples below to get started and watch their skills blossom!

It's time for dinner... Let's wash our hands!

  1. Invite your child to choose a bar of soap. Give two choices.
  2. Show your child how to apply soap to the back of the hands, as well as the palms.
  3. Demonstrate how to rub hands together. Don't forget to wash in between your fingers!
  4. If you sing "Happy Birthday" twice, you'll get rid of all the germs!
  5. For added fun, use a stop watch, timer, or the minute hand on your watch or clock to time.
  6. Rinse.
  7. Dry well, getting rid of any remaining germs.
  8. Add interest for older children: Include a nail brush and hand lotion!

My, these shoes are dirty... Let's clean them up!
You can create a shoe cleaning activity at home your child will love! Who knows? Children may even offer to clean shoes for the entire family — satisfying results and helping out the family are wonderful ways to develop self-esteem and independence.

  1. Place a child-size dustpan and brush outside your front door.
  2. Place a small chair or stool next to the dustpan and brush.
  3. Show children how to sit down and brush dirt off their shoes before entering the house.
  4. Demonstrate how to use the brush and dustpan to collect dirt.
  5. Show children where to place the dirt (a wastebasket or return to nature).

Do try this at home! More "Care of Self" Activities

Nose-blowing!
Children always have the sniffles, no matter what time of year it is. Maria Montessori showed children how to care for their little noses when she demonstrated using a handkerchief to blow her own nose.

Dr. Montessori discreetly took out her handkerchief, blew her nose ever so quietly, and put the handkerchief away. The children were so delighted with her demonstration they spontaneously applauded! Who'd think that blowing your nose would make such an impact!

You can teach your child Montessori's three-step nose-blowing technique. Also, find a handy spot at home for a box of tissues and a waste basket. Your child will take a tissue and blow his nose whenever needed. You can also teach your child how to cough into his elbow. Let him know that this will prevent spreading germs to his friends.

Managing clothing closures.
The Montessori Dressing Frames used in the classroom teach children how to master buttoning, Velcro-ing, snapping, zipping, tying, lacing, and buckling. Parents can help by giving children daily opportunities to practice with their own clothing and shoes at home.

Focus on one activity at a time. Start with mastering buttoning and work your way up to buckling, which is the hardest. Set aside a good amount of time when you can work together to perfect these skills. Attempt this as you're running off to soccer practice? Not so good.

Good grooming is important at any age.
A child-size brush is perfect for teaching children how to take care of their own hair. Brush hair before school, after kite-flying, or before a special event. Whatever the occasion, allowing enough time is the key to success.

It's never too early for good oral hygiene.
Young children are capable of brushing their own teeth. Keep your child's tooth brush and toothpaste in a special place in the bathroom. Establish a tooth-brushing routine. Brush after meals, after snacks, and before bedtime. Your child will establish a lifelong habit.

Foster your child's quest for independence.

Increase your child's confidence.

Help build self-esteem.

All it takes is a little planning, plenty of time, and lots of patience. Before you know it, you'll hear your child's joyful voice say, "I did it myself!"

—By Pamela Personette, M.Ed., Montessori Educational Consultant, Montessori Services. Fully committed to Montessori education, Pamela earned an AMS Montessori Primary Credential and a Master's of Education in Early Childhood, Montessori Education, from Notre Dame de Namur University. Pam's passion for Montessori has taken her from head teacher for more than a decade to a unique consulting business that uses Montessori principles to teach the art of superior customer service to adults in the retail trade. Pam continues to serve children by teaching at Montessori schools.

—Originally Published 2010

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