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Confident Toddler, Clean Home: A Guide for “First Chores”

“No one can be free unless he is independent: therefore, the first, active manifestations of the child’s individual liberty must be so guided that through this activity he may arrive at independence. Little children, from the moment in which they are weaned, are making their way toward independence.”

—Maria Montessori, The Montessori Method

The main goal in a young child's life is to develop independence. In Montessori’s observations of fifteen-month-old children, she realized that children of this age are not satisfied by toys alone; rather, they want to meet challenges that require their maximum efforts. Young children want to gain control of their hands and bodies, so once they are aware of their parents’ actions in daily life at home, they try to imitate what the adults are doing.

The child should be introduced at home to items that are real and relate directly to the adult’s everyday activities. At home, parents can simply include their child, according to the child’s interest and capabilities to do daily tasks such as setting the table, organizing groceries, preparing dinner/lunch, baking, pouring water, cleaning the table, washing the dishes or placing them into the dishwasher, sweeping and mopping, watering plants and tidying their rooms.

Everyday living activities teach children how to perform practical life skills that grow their independence. They learn how to pour and use different utensils, as well as prepare and serve food for themselves and others. Learning the skills to care for one’s environment, such as the various cleaning tasks, allows children to look after their own room and or toys.

The children learn to use practical life objects in a purposeful way. The purpose of these materials is to help the child gain control in the coordination of his/her movement, and help the child to gain independence and adapt to society. Also the exercises help the children grow and develop their own intellect and concentration. Everyday living activities are important to teach children so they can function in their own environment and find their place in their world and culture.

Children are naturally interested in everyday activities and materials that are around in their environment. The materials have to be familiar, real, breakable, and functional. They must also be related to the child’s time and culture. With the skills learned, children can find their place in their home by becoming involved in how their home works and how they can best function in their house. When children become involved in the workings of the housekeeping, it creates a great sense of pride and builds self-confidence.

How to Prepare a Room (and Routine) So Toddlers Keep Things Tidy

We recommend having a limited number of your child’s toys available, set out on a low shelf in separate baskets and trays. The rest can be stored in containers or a cupboard and regularly rotated. This will simplify the process of putting items away. The children will learn where their toys belong, which is the first step to putting things away.

As few as 6 activities can be available to the child at a given time. Older children don’t necessarily need more activities, but do need ones with greater difficulty, challenge and perhaps the number of pieces. At first you will be putting things away alongside your child, modeling what to do, and gradually they can do more by themselves. For example, when children are finished with an activity at school, we can encourage them to return it to the shelf in the correct place and arranged so it is ready for the next use. I like to say something neutral, for example:

“The activity goes here when we are done.”

(tap the shelf where the space is) “Look—Let’s get it ready for next time.”

This routine emphasizes there is a beginning, a middle and an end to a task—and helps children to develop their “work cycle.” It helps maintain calm and order in your home too.

You can adjust your expectations for your child’s age and ability:

  • Babies and toddlers under 2 years often do not yet put things away by themselves. They will need you to model this often.

  • Toddlers aged 2 years and older can start to put things away a lot of the time.

  • If at 2.5 years children still need some guidance, when they leave an activity to start another, you can offer to hold the new activity while they put the other away. “I know you really want to work with this puzzle now. That said, I suggest not making an issue out of putting things away. I’ll hold it for you to keep it safe. And you can put the last one away.”

During the child’s sensitive period between birth and six years, the child builds his/her interior person. In this period it is important that children participate in activities that prepare them to care for themselves and their environment. With more and more success comes greater confidence, giving them the foundation to believe in themselves.

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