On of the huge draws for me in the Montessori pedagogy is the emphasis on practical life activities for toddlers and preschoolers. The idea is that children that age want to "play" in a way that we consider "work". For them, helping Mommy sweep the floor is fun! Basic, everyday tasks are enjoyable to them for two simple reasons:
1. Everything is new to them, and so toddlers and preschoolers are interested in developing these basic skills (i.e. it is part of their exploration of the world). Along with this, toddlers and preschoolers want to learn how to do things "by myself" and so Montessori's maxim, "Help me to do it myself," fits in perfectly with their stage of life.
2. Little ones want to be included in the world of Mommy and Daddy, and they want to feel useful. By including them in daily tasks, it helps them to know that they are valuable members of the family. It is less important that they perfectly complete tasks, and these tasks definitely shouldn't be forced on them at so young an age - but if they are interested, we should help them participate.
Little Sister Stinky has been intensively interested in transferring and pouring activities (and every activity I've been offering her ends up someone being practice in those skills, even if that's not what I initially intended). However, I was able to introduce another practical life skill, one that she's been showing interest in for quite some time...handwashing! I set up a very simple handwashing station, traditional Montessori style (a bar of soap, a pitcher of water to pour in to the basin, a large basin for rinsing, and a small towel for drying).
She loved it! Now keep in mind, that this was just a supplemental, focused version of the normal handwashing (at the sink, with our help) that she's already been practicing. (One of her latest favorite requests is, "Wash?"...which she says while mimicking the motion of washing her hands.) Also, being the very young toddler that she is, she certainly didn't do this as perfectly as an older toddler or preschooler would...but it's all about practice! She certainly enjoyed the opportunity to practice (and to splash around a bit!). Notice that we were even able to incorporate her latest interest in transferring and pouring by incorporating the pouring of the water in to the basin.
Practical life activities with a toddler can be fun, but keep in mind a few things:
1. Be patient! Your toddler will need LOTS of practice to get a new skill and definitely won't get it right the first time. That's okay!
2. Focus on process, not product! This is a big one that I've read about elsewhere, as well, and it correlates to the first point. Your toddler won't be able to perform any practical life activity perfectly, so if you are expecting that to be the case you will be sorely disappointed. However, if you are instead focused on exposing your toddler to a new activity and looking to helping them to work through a new process (no matter how imperfectly they may do so at first) then you will not get discouraged.
3. Have fun!
Edited to add: The Abbot just saw these pictures and informed me, "Do you know what she learned from that? How to wash her hands in her cereal in the morning..."
Linking up to Tuesday Tots! Hop on over there for more fantastic toddler activities!
Also linking up to Saturday Show and Tell: