Raising Little Helpers: Montessori Lifestyle Tips

A toddler who can dress themselves, lay the table and water the plants might sound like a pipe-dream, but, with a little Montessori-at-Home, this dream could be reality.
Here at MEplace, we have our own early years curriculum and values that incorporate concepts from several different schools of thought. One of these is Montessori.

Created by Dr Maria Montessori at the beginning of the 20th century, this style of learning encourages the development of key life skills and provides freedom for children to choose their own interests and pursuits. In an academic setting, Montessori uses specific styles of activities and toys. At home, Montessori living encourages parents to make their house fully accessible to their little ones, giving them the freedom to care for themselves, the home, and even other family members and pets.

Why should I make my home accessible to my toddler? Won’t they just hurt themselves or break things?

Of course, in any house with a toddler, things can get broken, and you should still be keeping sharp knives and plug sockets away from little fingers! That said, when children know from an early age that glasses break and the hot tap burns, they will, very quickly, learn to be careful and to respect their surroundings. In fact, encouraging children to take part in daily household work can have a range of impressive benefits:

  • It can encourage their natural curiosity and love of learning, and even develop inner motivation. Children love being able to do things for themselves, and allowing them to experience that feeling of ‘I did it!’ is amazing for nurturing life-long learners.
  • It can teach them to concentrate for longer and learn to follow steps.
  • It encourages responsibility for belongings, and teaches them to clean up after themselves.
  • They will learn how to take care of themselves, others and their environment
  • Children grow independence, develop autonomy, and build confidence, giving them the freedom to explore and learn
  • Children master a range of new skills, from fastening shoes to preparing food.
  • These kinds of activities are full of opportunities for language acquisition and the development of both fine and gross motor skills.
  • It can be a great way of spending simple quality time together as a family.
  • And, lastly, children love it! Young children are most interested in what their parents are doing, and being a contributing member of the family can give them an immense sense of pride and joy. So, if the space is accessible, they will leap at the chance to join in on doing the washing up or folding the laundry - so teach them these skills now, while they’re interested!

How does it work?

Below, we’ve got some suggestions for how you can make each room of your house accessible, Montessori style. First up, though, let’s go through a few tips and ideas to keep in mind if you want to try Montessori at home.

  • A place for everything and everything in its place.
    Toddlers love order. If everything they need to use has a set place where it lives, children will quickly learn where things go, and put them back when they’re finished using them.  For example, if the kitchen sponge is always in the same space, they will learn to fetch it to wipe up a spill, and put it back when they’ve cleaned up. Similarly, remember that young children thrive on a regular routine, so consider keeping morning, meal and evening routines consistent.

  • Make the space accessible
    Try getting down to your child’s height. How much can they reach by themselves? Consider sourcing some child-sized furniture, or taking a look into step-stools to help little ones reach counters and sinks. Try making snacks, water, clothes, shoes and cleaning materials easily accessible to children, so they can help themselves.
    However, remember to only put out as much as you want them to use (for example a certain number of snacks). And, with cleaning materials, group everything needed for a task together (such as a sponge, soap and gloves all together for washing up). 
    If your child asks you to help with something, consider what changes you could make so they can do it by themselves next time!
    If they do start misusing something in a way that could damage themselves or the furniture, simply take it away and let them know they can have it back if they want to use it safely

  • Let them choose.
    With every daily activity, look for a way they can participate. Maybe they could pass you the pegs as you hang the washing, or press the buttons on the microwave. If they look like they want to try something, show them how it’s done then let them have a go - when in doubt, let them join in!
    However, if they get bored or don’t feel like it, don’t force them. Your little one will want your help sometimes, just as sometimes we want to order a takeaway instead of cooking. In these cases, simply offer to help, or provide an alternative option.

  • Show, don’t tell.
    For your little one to water the plants, you’re going to have to teach them how to do it. The easiest way for your little one to learn is if you show them. 
    Break each task down into small steps (carry the watering can to the sink. Place it under the tap. Turn on the tap. Wait for it to fill up. Turn off the tap, and so on…). Show them how to do each one, and try to model them in a way that your child can manage (e.g. using two hands to carry something heavy). 
    While giving your demonstration, try to avoid speaking at the same time, as they can struggle to know whether to look at your face or hands.

  • Be patient.
    Your child will be slower to complete tasks than you, and the result will, inevitably, be worse. However, this is important for them to master new skills! Try to sit back and let them get on with it. If they drop something or make a mistake, wait to see if they realise. Only step in if they begin to get frustrated, and then you can give a simple verbal cue, or show them again how the next step is done.
    Once they’ve completed a task once, let them repeat it as much as they need, and help them clean up any mistakes with calm positivity. We all spill things sometimes!

  • Give feedback, not bribes.
    It’s important for children to learn to care for themselves and their home for the innate satisfaction of it, rather than for praise or treats. If they do something well or master a new skill, rather than saying ‘good job!’, try commenting factually on what they have achieved, and maybe adding a label to it. For example: ‘You dressed yourself today. That’s really independent!’

  • Be a positive role model.
    Toddlers are like sponges. They soak up everything around them - including your behaviour! Model self-care by taking time to look after your own physical and mental wellbeing, and, when you make a mistake, admit it and make amends without being too hard on yourself. Treat yourself as you want your children to be treated.

  • Enjoy!
    Simply doing the housework together is a wonderful way to spend quality time together, and working towards a common goal is a fantastic bonding experience. Enjoy it!

Montessori Room by Room

Below are a few ideas for how you can incorporate Montessori techniques into your home:

  • Include a low table and chairs that children can use for enjoying snacks, or helping themselves to water.
  • Place snacks, a small jug of water, child-sized cups and a sponge for spills in an accessible location. Make sure you only put out as much as you are happy for your child to eat, and don’t top the snacks up if they finish everything before 10am!
  • Consider a step stool or a learning tower so children can reach counters and the sink.
  • Cut down sponges to easily fit in your little one’s hand, or consider wearable cloth mitts. Put these, along with a mini bottle of soap, gloves and an apron in an accessible caddy or basket, so little ones can easily help with cleaning up.
  • Provide child-sized versions of cooking equipment. Large items can be difficult for children to grasp and manipulate.
  • Have a few trays to hand. Children can use these to carry larger objects, or several items at once.
  • Have a dustpan and brush in a low cupboard or hung on a low hook.
  • Start showing your little one how to chop up soft items with a non-serrated butter knife. In time, graduate to safety knives. Always keep sharp knives and scissors out of reach!

  • Buy or make place mats that show where the plate, cutlery and cup go, so your little one can refer to it when laying the table.
  • Try a stokke chair (or even try swapping out your dining table for a low table and floor chairs - it’s great for your posture!) so your little one can sit at the table with the rest of the family.
  • Provide a small jug of water, juice or milk so your little one can help themselves. Consider serving food ‘family style’ so your little one can plate up their own dinner.
  • Use real glass and china. They’ll learn to be careful with it!
  • Have a tray or basket to hand that little ones can use to carry plates, cutlery and cups.

  • Hang coats and bags on low hooks, easy for children to reach.
  • Leave season-appropriate shoes in cubbies or on a shoe rack, so they can choose what to wear.
  • Have a low bench or stool that children can sit on to put on their shoes.
  • Put hats, sunglasses, sun cream and other items you might need for going outside in easy to access cubbies or trays.
  • Hang a mirror at your child’s height (or a long one they can see into).

  • Place a step stool or learning tower by the sink, so they can wash their hands and brush their teeth and hair unaided.
  • Try a stool and toilet training seat so they can easily use the toilet.
  • Put shampoo in a refillable travel-sized bottle. This way they can squeeze it themselves but won’t accidentally use 500ml all at once!
  • Make sure the mirror is at a height they can see from the sink, to help with brushing.
  • Place toothbrush, toothpaste and hairbrush within reach.

  • Lower the rail in the wardrobe, or try cubbies or baskets, so they can reach their own clothes.
  • Only put season-appropriate clothing within reach, so they can choose without getting into an argument! Store out-of-season clothing out of sight and reach.
  • Opt for looser clothing with wide necks and elastic waists, and avoid long dresses, dungarees and playsuits. Choose shoes with velcro straps rather than laces.
  • Place a mirror at your child’s height to help them dress.

  • Provide miniature versions of watering cans, trowels and forks, so children can get involved.
  • Consider a child-sized wheelbarrow or cart so they can move items around.

To try Montessori at home, you don’t need to buy huge amounts of new stuff or make everything in your house miniature - after all, there are people of different sizes and with different needs living in your home! The best start you can make is to consider how you can make your home a safe space that your child can explore and live in freely - get creative about how you do that!

We’ve covered a lot in this blog, so I hope you’ve found something new to try at home.  If you have any questions, want to share your own tips, or have a topic you want to hear more about, you can drop us a message via our Instagram.

Until next week!

Content Creator at MEplace


next article