40 practical life activities for toddlers

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. 

Chopping fruit and vegetables using a crinkle cutter. 

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

Mopping. Cleaning + water play = everyone is happy!

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. 

Dusting. This is especially helpful if your toddler has low shelves for toys and materials, as they can collect dust easily! 

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. 

Phew! 

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? 

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The start of the birthday celebrations

I was in early labour for four days before Frida was born, so it makes sense that we should be celebrating her birthday over the course of a week!

To kick things off we threw an afternoon tea for a few family members. I baked a haphazard lemon cake, which went wrong in many different ways because I refuse to consult recipes, and assembled a few decorations; some flower garlands, a banner, and photos of Frida when she was tiny as place settings. 

We all squashed around our too-small table and drank tea, and champagne from paper cups.It was such a lovely afternoon and Frida was thoroughly spoilt by her family. I feel so lucky that Frida is surrounded by a wonderful family who love her.

A few photos below:   

    
    
    
     

  

Gross motor skills: standing 

Over the last week Frida has suddenly “got” standing unaided. Previously if she was standing up and we let go of her, she would stand for 10-30 seconds, then panic when she realised and promptly sit down. 

  
Now however she will intentionally let go of whatever she is holding, and will do everything she can to balance if she starts to wobble. It’s such a joy to watch her!

  

She is also climbing the stairs (eek) and generally seems really aware of and interested by her body. When prompted she knows her nose, mouth, head, hands, and feet. It will be interesting to see when she decides to walk! 

DIY chalk board wall 

I have been wanting to put a toddler size chalk board wall up for a while, but like all the other DIY our house desperately needs doing I managed to put it off. However with Frida’s first birthday just days away I suddenly felt the motivation to get it done. 

Our house is not very big (under 1000sqft) so I am keen to try and make our space as multi-functional as possible. I have written before about my attempt to make our dining room more baby and toddler friendly, and it made sense to put the chalk board wall in there as this is the room where Frida will do arts and crafts. It is also bright and sunny with doors onto the garden, and the hole which goes through to the kitchen means I can keep an eye on activities whilst I cook or do chores. 

 
Here is the finished result! It was so quick to do:

  1. Give the wall where you are planning to paint a wipe down, and use masking tape to create a border.
  2. Apply two coats of chalk board paint using vertical brush strokes, allowing the paint to dry completely between costs.
  3. When dry, rub the entire chalk board with a piece of chalk and then rub it off; this “seasons” the paint and makes it easier to draw on. 

  
I just need to add a small ledge or pot to keep the chalk and duster at child-height, and I would also like to put some low art above her shelves. Any justification for a trip to IKEA…

 
I’m really pleased with how it looks and I think it makes the space look more appealing and child-focused. I am looking forward to Frida showing an interest in drawing on it!   

Montessori discovery basket: silver and gold 

There is usually a “treasure basket” of mixed objects to be found on one of Frida’s shelves. I tend to try and stick to objects of a certain theme, to encourage her to draw associations between the similar properties. 

This week I have pulled together a very simple silver and gold basket.   In it I have included: 

  • A small sensory jar of “gold” liquid (yellow food dye and gold glitter glue mixed with water) 
  • A jar of silver sugar balls
  • A gold bauble
  • A silver spoon
  • A gold chocolate box 
  • A silver kiddush cup

So far it’s been a hit and Frida has enjoyed exploring its contents.   

  

 

Frida’s first haircut

I had tried everything. Every clip, hair band, Alice band, hair grip; Frida pulled each of them out of her hair with growing speed. Her hair was getting SO long to the point that it no longer felt fair to do nothing about it.  

So I decided that the time had come to finally cut her a fringe. I waited until she fell asleep in bed and then pounced with a pair of scissors I, ahem, found in the kitchen drawer.  


 Ta-dah! 

She has seemed pretty happy about it; it must be nice for her to no longer have to look out onto the world through a curtain of hair! I now feel horribly guilty that I didn’t do this weeks ago.

 
 

A holiday in Suffolk (part 2)

We’ve only been home a few days and already our holiday feels like it was so long ago. We are already back in the routine of laundry, preparing meals, wiping the table (I feel like I do this allllll day long – anyone else?), nap times, and all the other little things which make up our daily rhythm.

As I wrote previously we were staying in a little cottage very close to  the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. We spent a lot of time taking Frida outside just to look at the sheep outside the cottage. I have noticed that since coming home she has become very interested in them, selecting her Holztiger ewe to play with over and over again, saying “baa baa”, or choosing the sheep piece from an old knobbed puzzle to carry around with her. I am going to try and take her to a local farm this week to have another look at some.

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We visited Southwold, a very twee seaside town just a twenty minute drive from where we were staying. With a sandy beach, painted beach huts, a pier, and some great bakeries, we felt very touristy. There was also a great playground tucked behind a church in the town centre where we took Frida to tire her out a bit before a nap (where she finally decided she likes slides!)

   

 We absolutely loved visiting the Minsmere RSPB reserve. It is such an amazing space, and going in springtime was wonderful as we saw countless hopping rabbits and some deer. Unsurprisingly the place is teeming with birds and your ears are filled with birdsong. It is also possible to see otters although we weren’t lucky enough (also we didn’t bring any binoculars – oops! Amateurs.)

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We also went to visit the Dunwich Heath and Beach National Trust site, which was perfect for long walks. It wasn’t the season for heather, which was a shame, but the gorse! If you have never smelt gorse then go and find some to sniff as soon as you can, it is divine – the closest I can get is coconut ice.

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All of these places were by the sea, so we made the most of it with multiple visits. Frida was absolutely fascinated by it (my parents live in Brighton so she has seen it before but I feel like this was the first time she “got” it) and loved playing “run away from the waves” games with her dad.

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This was a perfect location to spend a few days with a baby and I would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone. I’m already wondering where we can go next – as much as I love going abroad there is something so good about exploring your country and getting to know it a bit better.