How we Encourage Practical Life Care of Self Activities
Otis is a typical three year old. There are times often months when he is happy to brush his teeth and then suddenly he starts refusing. He will put on his shoes independently for weeks then he starts asking for help. Montessori has taught me a few ways to promote care of self activities so I thought I would take some time to share.
Knowledge and Skill. The child needs to have knowledge of and the skills required to complete the task. In most cases the child will need the steps of the task broken down. The child depending on their stage in development may be only able to complete part of the task, for example a child could get their shoes out and slip their feet in, a parent could pull the straps and the child can attach the velcro. Or the parent rinses a face wash cloth and the child wipes their own face. As the child completes each step the parent can start preparing for the next. I suggest parents provide the least amount of assistance required for the child to complete the task.
Environment. Without a supportive environment it's difficult for a child to complete care of self activities. The easier it is for the child the more likely it is that they will participate. Step stools to reach basins, low mirror, drink station, snack table. The child needs to be able to reach and access all of the materials required. The environment also needs to be orderly so the child can find and return all of their materials. Cups and glasses need to be cleaned, snacks need to be restocked. There needs to be a place for everything. If there is no hook or place to store hats, towels or free hangers for clothes it's likely (in our home) these would end up on the floor.
Time. I have found that young children cannot be rushed. If I ask Otis to hurry often this results in distracting him to the point it actually slows him down. Children need adequate time to complete their activities. They need time and space (hovering doesn't help) to get dressed, put their shoes on etc.
Expectation/Habit/Routine. These are all so important for the child know what is expected of them. If it is part of the child's routine to brush their teeth after bath time then it becomes automatic. The child knows what happens next and knows what to do. It becomes habit and routine to the point they just do it without thinking and move on to the next thing.
Consistency. I know this can be terribly difficult sometimes especially if you need to get out the door in a rush. However as much as possible we need to respect the child's right to complete the task themselves. Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed. If a child can tie their shoes then they should have the opportunity to do so every time. It doesn't help if sometimes you tie their shoes then other times you expect them to do it.
Beauty. This is really relevant to the environment and materials. Children (and adults!) are attracted to beauty. If the environment and materials are beautiful, if they are attractive, it's more likely the child will use them. Beauty means different things to different people but for many people this means using lovely natural materials. Nice baskets to store clothes, gorgeous plates, tablecloths, aprons, napkins etc.
Interests/Likes. A child isn't going to prepare their own snack if they don't like the food on offer. I use interests and likes as incentives for the child to become involved. I know it isn't always possible but Otis is heavily involved in clothes and shoe shopping. He selects his favourite toothpaste from the shop. I keep his interests and likes in mind when selecting materials.
These tips don't and won't solve all of our problems however they address most of the barriers to children being involved in care of self activities.