One of the main topics we focus on in the Montessori classroom is Practical Life. In the toddler environment, we also put an emphasis on teaching “Care of Self” which also falls into this category. The child’s independence is one of the main goals we strive to achieve, essentially we help them help themselves!
One of the first lessons a child receives in the environment is Hand Washing. We teach them to wash their hands each time they use the bathroom (even if they use diapers!), before eating, before doing any food prep, any time they are visibly dirty, along with other time they may take interest in doing so. The classroom is ideally set up for their stature so reaching the soap and water are simple. We show them how to use the soap pump, how to turn the water on, the importance of lathering the soap between their fingers and behind their hands, and have paper towels nearby. We take the time to go through each step slowly then step back to watch the child do it on their own.
With runny noses being in season it’s important that the toddlers know how to clean their faces and noses on their own. We are also aware this is something they prefer doing on their own than someone else cleaning it for them! In the class, we have a small table set up that have tissues and a mirror. When we tell the child that they have a runny nose, we walk over to the mirror together and show them. Having the mirror helps to be able to identify, clean and to be sure to not miss a spot. When they are just starting to learn how to use the tissues on their own, we typically make the child aware that they need to go wipe their nose, but then over time they are quick to notice on their own and clean their faces by themselves. This makes them very proud to be able to accomplish this independently!
Clothing is the other major part of Care of Self. These lessons include learning how to dress and undress their shirt down to their shoes. The reason we emphasize to the parents the importance of clothing that is not too snug or with too many buttons is because the young child is just beginning to do this on their own. In the environment, each child has their own basket where they have their extra clothes and shoes. Anytime they get soiled or too wet during the school day they go to their basket to pick out their clean clothes. When changing both at home and school, it is important to have a stool or chair that is low to their ground for the child to learn how to independently dress/undress their pants and shoes. The seat gives them the steady surface to sit and not do a “balancing act” when putting on their pants. Often times when one helps a child gets dressed they assist them with balancing as they step one leg into their bottoms. Having this chair will help them learn how to better dress themselves without the assistance from an adult.
Along with their own basket of clothes each child also has a bag for their soiled clothes. This way they can properly clean up after removing their wet or soiled clothing, with the guidance from the adult. The other times we take the opportunity to teach the children how to independently put on their socks and shoes is at nap time and when they use Crocs in the garden area. Again, this is why we emphasize shoes without laces so the child can do it on their own.
“Undressing is easier than dressing and is learned first. Clothing that is easy to remove and to put on oneself enables the child to practice these skills. A child's efforts at picking out their own clothes and dressing themselves is satisfied if it is made available to them.” -The Joyful Child by Susan Mayclin Stephenson