By: Dana Howard, Lead Teacher, Penfield Montessori Academy
Many people are surprised when they visit a Montessori primary classroom. They see children joyfully going about their work, sometimes for very long periods of time, without any signs of boredom or exhaustion. Visitors sometimes ask, “What’s the secret? Why are they working so quietly, happily, and cooperatively?” The Montessori teacher reveals that there is no “secret,” but instead a method. The Montessori Method is built on a few core principles, including: respect for the child, freedom within limits, and fostering independence as well as social unity.
One overarching principle of the Montessori philosophy is freedom. In the classroom, each child is given as much freedom as he or she can handle. Freedom, in the Montessori environment, is balanced with clear, consistent, and reasonable behavior guidelines. When children experience freedom to move, talk, choose their activities, etc., they gain independence. As children develop more and more independence, their true nature shines through, and they often exhibit positive character traits, such as: confidence, joyfulness, courage, determination, and curiosity.
As adults, we can provide opportunities for children to express their ever-growing independence. Sometimes, this can be as simple as giving time and space for a child to work out an idea or problem on his or her own. For parents and Montessori teachers alike, it can be quite challenging to unconditionally accept a child’s work (flaws and all) without correcting. It is important to remember that the child is learning, and will naturally refine his or her skills over time.
Meaningful Tasks that Young Children Can Do Independently at Home
1. Getting Dressed
To help children dress themselves, it is best to provide only a few clothing choices at a time. Clothing options can be stored in a low dresser or shelf that the child can access. When choosing clothes, it is best to select items that the child can put on without too much complication.
Young children often enjoy carrying out their own hygiene routines, including: brushing their teeth and hair, washing their face and hands, blowing their noses, applying lotion and lip balm, etc. Adults can show how to use grooming tools and products on themselves before offering them to the child.
3. Preparing a Snack or Meal
With a little guidance, young children can prepare simple and healthy snacks for themselves. Some ideas include: hardboiled eggs, celery sticks with peanut butter, crackers and hummus, personal pizzas, bagels with cream cheese, yogurt and sliced fruit, smoothies, tacos, and so many more! Simple baking recipes are always a hit too!
4. Caring for the Home and Cleaning
From dusting, to vacuuming, to sweeping, to folding towels, your child can do it all on his or her own! Young children are typically quite interested in taking part in every-day household chores and tasks. Children may also enjoy watering plants, tending a garden, caring for family pets, washing dishes, and other common household activities.
In a Montessori classroom, you will see children lovingly taking care of themselves and their classroom. These activities are deeply meaningful in terms of the child’s physical, intellectual, and emotional development. We don’t force children to take part in these tasks, so they are not referred to as chores in the classroom. Children are invited to take part, and then shown one simple way of carrying out the task. When children engage in meaningful and interesting activities, they naturally experience joy of work.
What Montessori-inspired tasks would you like to try with your child?