Montessori with a Toddler: Practical Life Activities at Home

Jasmine: At fourteen months old, Dylan loves imitating us adults. For now, the big thing is walking, and we give him plenty of chances to totter around the house barefoot (best for foot development) all day, But as he becomes more confident and dexterous, he is copying our actions and trying to “help” us, for instance, he will help Daddy pick up all the (clean) diapers after he is done throwing them around. After observing his interests, I decided to come up with some Montessori-inspired practical life activities for Dilly.

Montessori philosophy stresses respect for the child, and allowing the child the autonomy to explore and eventually master his environment. We do let Dylan “help” us in many authentic ways, such as moisturising his tummy, or  “vacuuming” the floor…

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Actually, my helper is holding the vacuum up, some distance behind him

But Montessori practical life trays  are still useful as they help to isolate a specific skill that they may need in real life and give the child repeated opportunities to perfect it, through repetition. These practical life trays allow the child to build focus and concentration, while improving hand-eye coordination etc. Trays are used to demarcate the boundaries of the activity, but as I have no trays, I have used… my high chair tray. Heh.

Anyway, theory aside, let’s move on to some practical life activities that I set up for Dilly. My own approach to activities is that they must be QUICK AND EASY to create. These took maybe a minute to grab the stuff from my kitchen:

1. Scooping activity

Setup: Two bowls, a spoon and some rice (or beans/ pasta/ pompoms)

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Dylan loves this happy-faced spoon bought by his Ee Ee

Dylan is in a phase where he likes to use implements. I noticed that at dinner, he would hold his spoon or place it in his mouth and try to scoop up leftover porridge. Thus, I set up a scooping activity where Dylan had to transfer uncooked lavender-scented rice from one bowl to another.

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Although I realised it was quite hard for him to scoop such small grains with such a shallow spoon, I was really proud of him for concentrating for 15 min. and yes, managing to transfer some rice to the other bowl too! When he threw one of the bowls on the floor, that was when I ended the activity, and gave him his little Daiso broom to sweep up the rice on his highchair tray.

Andrew: Dylan is really quite into ‘scooping’ right now and even during meal times, he always makes noise when is fed and wants to seize the spoon from us now. The problem is that he only scoops the food into his mouth for a while, following that he starts to scoop porridge out and either fling it on the floor or scoop it onto his high chair table and subsequently start smushing it around. Well, I guess everyone starts somewhere…

2. Water transfer activity

Jasmine: Setup – Two bowls, a sponge (cut in half for smaller hands), and water

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Water play is a sure hit with our little one. I added food coloring to the water so it would be easier for Dylan to see. He was supposed to transfer the water from one container to another by squeezing the sponge. This activity was pitched too high, and he was more interested in dipping his hands in the water though. I’ll probably revisit this in future as the act of squeezing the sponge is good for hand-eye coordination and building strength.

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What was more successful was the extension:

3. Cleaning

I sprayed a little more water, and gave Dylan some tissue so he could help wipe the spill up!

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4. Baking

Of course, Dylan’s favourite was helping Granny bake bread! We gave him a little ball of dough and Granny showed him how to flatten and roll it.

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He enjoyed the sensory nature of the dough, just squishing it delightedly in his chubby little palm and banging on it.

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Andrew:  He looks so cute, with that concentrating look and hair all so sweaty, like he’s working hard rolling that little piece of dough. Maybe he’ll inherit the baking genes from Granny that somehow Dear didn’t! 😀

4. Latch board

Jasmine: This one was Amazon-bought, but I have a friend who made her own by hot-gluing lock fixtures onto a plank of wood (Andrew: Two friends actually – I’m so glad Jas didn’t get ME to DIY this.)! Dyl is fascinated by all the keyholes of our drawers and will spend ages (meaning 10 min) trying to pull the key out and slot it back.

Thus, this Melissa and Doug latch board, with six different locks and doors revealing different numbers/ colours/ animals, was a useful practical life activity for Dylan, and one that keeps him quiet and busy too. He has so far managed to open doors no 6 and no 4!

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If you’re wondering why he’s in his crib, we’ve introduced a new Quiet Time routine for him after his afternoon nap. I’ll turn on the music, explain to him that this is his Quiet Time, and bring in some toys that he can play with (usually the latch board and books work the best), whilst Andrew or I sit quietly nearby and read. We try not to talk to him or intervene in his play.

We’re only 4 or 5 days in, but Dylan can go up to 20-35 min of Quiet Time play! Of course, he may whine a couple of times for attention or try to pass us a toy, but we will smile, accept and return the toy, and minimise the interaction, and he will go back to his own play shortly. This is not a Montessori idea, but we thought it would complement Montessori as it fosters independence and concentration.

We also have a special box filled with toys for his Quiet Time. These include his beloved maracas, balls and books. Even the box itself (actually a $5 dumpling carrier from Toastbox) is fun to explore with the lid, the removable felt and all the different textures!

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Andrew: Thanks Dear for planning all these meaningful activities for Dillie. I really do see that the length of his concentration is improving indeed and nowadays he can spend almost 20 minutes just on the same toy, on his own initiative. He is really learning to take anything from the environment to keep himself occupied, without adult intervention or guidance, exploring how to use that item. Now he’s been walking around with our bamboo pole ‘holder’ for the past twenty minutes! It seems like he loves playing with household items – that bodes well – he can help out with the housework in future! 

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