Frida is 21 months, and does very little in the way of working with traditional Montessori materials at the moment. She’s outgrown her infant materials, and is still too young for most materials geared towards the 3-6 plane of development. What she does do a lot of, though, is practical life, which I believe to be the real focus of the toddler years. By involving Frida in practical life – real life, purposeful activity – her confidence and independence visibly grows.
I thought I would share some ideas with you for how to incorporate more of these moments into every day life. These are all wonderful opportunities to slow down, allow your child to learn, and show them that you value them as a capable and helpful member of the household. And whilst practical life is integral to any Montessori family, you don’t have to know anything about Montessori to do these activities! In fact I bet you’re already doing lots of these things every day.
Note: These are all “real-life” activities, as opposed to activities set up on trays such as pouring beans or scooping rice or grating soap. Whilst I have nothing against those activities I have found with Frida that she likes her work to be purposeful and to have meaningful results!
Care of self
Choosing clothes. We have been encouraging Frida to choose her clothes from a young age and have recently set up her wardrobe to maximise her independence.
Nose wiping. We are in the process of teaching Frida to do this independently, using Nicole at the Kavanaugh Report’s method.
Putting on a cardigan and/or coat. Show them the Montessori coat flip and you will never look back!
Getting dressed. Every child will learn at different speeds but at 21 months Frida is putting on pants and trousers (with little help), is getting more confident with tights, still struggles a bit with socks and shoes, and helps to pull on her tops and dresses. Providing your child with some time to practice when they are not rushed is key.
Getting undressed. Much easier than getting dressed, as anyone who has tried to keep socks on a baby will know!
Hair brushing. Frida’s hair has always been quite long so getting her involved with and used to hair brushing has been important for us.
Washing hands. Most toddlers I have met love doing this.
Face wiping. After lunch or a snack I offer Frida a damp flannel. She also washes her face in the bath.
Tooth brushing. Although I brush Frida’s teeth for her (it’s important for it to be done thoroughly) she enjoys brushing them herself once I’m done.
Applying sun-cream. Not so relevant for our family now in January, but Frida does like to be involved in putting her moisturiser on after her bath (we use Waitrose Bottom Butter as a body cream, it’s just olive oil, vanilla, and chamomile).
Toilet learning. Montessorians tend to believe that children enter a sensitive period for toilet learning between 12-18 months. We started Frida’s learning journey at ten months and at 21 months we are done with the basics – we have very few accidents and she is dry at night. The next step will be Frida telling us every time she needs to use the loo rather than us prompting her, which will come with time. You can read about our journey here.
Using a nail-brush. Particularly useful after a muddy ramble around the park when your child has dirt under their nails.
Doing up side-release buckles and using zips on bags. Frida loves clipping buckles together, and has been interested in zips for a while now. Great for fine motor skills too.
In the kitchen
Pouring water or milk from a jug. Spills are a great opportunity to practice wiping.
Baking. This involves a range of different skills including mixing, transferring, glazing, and kneading. If you don’t bake much, scones are a great starter for both of you!
Using a cookie cutter. It’s also fun to practice with playdough.
Washing dishes. If you are nervous about smashing start with pans or cutlery.
Mashing. You can start small with bananas and a fork, and move on to vegetables and a potato masher.
Assembling smoothies. Choosing, chopping, and adding fruit and veg, pouring milk or water, scooping yoghurt or nut butters, adding nuts and seeds.
Peeling. Bananas, tangerines, and eggs are all great for under-twos.
Learning to crack eggs. This needs very hands-on parental support!
Grating cheese. The hard thing for me is preventing Frida from eating it all as she goes!
Spreading condiments on bread or crackers.
Helping to load / unload the dishwasher. The cutlery is a great place to start (just remove any sharp knives first).
Helping to set the table. We don’t do this with Frida yet as our table is too high for her to reach, though I’d like to think creatively about how I can empower her to help with this soon.
Care of their environment
Sweeping. Frida has a Melissa and Doug child-size cleaning set with a broom, mop, duster, dustpan and brush. It’s the perfect size for a toddler.
Helping to load / unload / hang / take down the laundry.
Sorting dry laundry. You can also turn this into a matching activity, for example pairing socks, or finding all the underwear.
Tidying up after themselves. We have encouraged Frida to do this from a young age. It’s helpful that all of her toys / materials / clothes / books have a set place, so she knows where everything goes.
Wiping the table or work surface with a damp cloth after their art and craft / cooking / meal. If your child has a blackboard they can also wash this down regularly.
Watering and dusting indoor plants. A lovely way of teaching children gentleness, concentration, and control.
Watering outdoor plants. With a hose or watering can.
Sowing seeds and growing plants. We will start germinating some seeds soon indoors – I need to get organised!
Out and about
Sticking stamps on letters and posting them. I have never met a toddler who doesn’t love to post. This is a lovely extension to art activities as your toddler can post one of their pieces to a friend or relative.
Ordering in a cafe or restaurant. If your toddler would like to, encourage them to order their drink, snack or meal from the barista or waiter! A lovely way to build confidence.
Food shopping. Involve your toddler – let them choose some food, for example which pasta shape to buy or what sort of apples. Let them put things in the basket or trolley, and talk about what food you will cook. They may even enjoy to carry something home.
Care of animals
Topping up pet food and water dishes. Decant pet food into larger containers and let them top up your pet’s bowl. We are going to start doing this with Frida.
Grooming. If you have a pet which needs grooming, your toddler can be involved.
I hope this has given you some ideas, and show that Montessori parenting doesn’t have to be complicated, or involve lots of fancy furniture or expensive materials.
What are your favourite practical life activities?