Practical Life: Care of the Environment

Practical life in a Montessori home is really about allowing your child to become involved with the daily tasks of managing a household. Care of the environment, most often seen as cleaning in the home,  is an essential part of any well-managed household. Even children, as young as toddlers and twos, can participate in many aspects of the daily care in their homes.

Ways to Allow Toddlers to Help Clean:

  • Sweeping – it may not be perfect, but they’re learning. I usually let my son sweep with the broom after I’ve done the majority of the sweeping. He also likes to hold the dustpan for me or try it on his own.
  • Clean up their own messes – If a child spills their water, dumps food on the floor, rips paper into shreds allow them to clean up their own mess. A child of 18 months to 2 years (and older) is completely capable to picking up paper or food and throwing it away. They can also take a towel soak up a damp spot on the floor. The results might not be perfect, but it’s a learning opportunity that teaches care for their environment and discipline, as well as natural consequences to actions.
  • Have them help put away their toys and return their work to the shelf. If a child is overwhelmed with putting away toys, be very specific in your instruction. For example, “Joey I want you to pick up only the blocks right now.” And later move on to the next item, which in our house is usually the cars. I’ve also found it helpful if I sort the toys before he puts them away. All the blocks in one pile, the cars in another, and the animals in a third. I’ve found it not as overwhelming for him to pick up the toys once there’s some sort of definition between the items.
  • Use child-safe cleaning products – We use a mixture of baking soda, vinegar, and water as our all-purpose house cleaner. It’s safe for children and a great, natural disinfectant. I feel comfortable giving my son a cleaning rag and allowing him to clean along side me. (For a recipe, see  below)
  • Pets – If your family has a pet allow them to help feed the pet, put water in its bowl, and even clean the animal or its habitat (if appropriate).
  • Plants – Allow the child to water the plants along with you. Especially if you have an outside gardening area, children love to hold the hose and spray.
  • Give them access to child-size cleaning tools, such as a dustpan, broom, mop, and wash cloths.
  • Teach them how to wipe off the table or their placemat after use.
  • Help with the dishes – This is a fairly new venture in our house, but my son loves to play with the bubbles and rinse the dishes. It takes patience for the parent, but every once and awhile invite your child to wash dishes with you.
  • Folding Laundry – Folding napkins is a regular practical life activity in many classrooms. It’s very easy to do this at home. Allow your little one to try to fold napkins, washcloths, or small towels. With Joey, we showed him how to match the edges and have them “kiss.” He learned very quickly and loves to help fold with us.

Natural Consequences to Actions

It’s important for a child to learn that there are natural consequences to their actions. If they drop their cup of water, it will leave the floor wet. Instead of immediately moving to clean up the spill for the child, invite the child to begin cleaning up themselves. Keep towels in a drawer they can reach and have them wipe up the spill.

Don’t expect perfection from them in this lesson, but give them a chance to begin the process and help them see spots they might have missed. Allowing your child to experience natural consequences to their actions not only gives them personal responsibility for the things they’ve done, but also equips them with the skills to handle accidents that happen naturally.

Safe Cleaning Products

If you worry about your child being exposed to unsafe chemicals during cleaning, then let me put your mind at ease. Some of the best cleaners aren’t ones you find in the grocery store, but in your own pantry. A little bit of baking soda and vinegar will dispel just about any stain, streak, or mark. Lemon is a natural bleaching agent.

And, guess what? They’re all safe! They’re all things that won’t harm your little one, because they’re things you eat!

A simple recipe for cleaning with with baking soda and vinegar:

If you’re looking for more natural home cleaners, then check out this site.

3 comments… add one

  • Audrey July 6, 2011, 9:55 pm

    I’m sure my friends think I’m the meanest mom in the world because my 2 and 5 year olds always help with tasks around the house. Within the past week the 2 year old has started sweeping and using the dust pan, the 5 year old has started folding his own laundry and they have many other things that they’ve been doing for a long time. My boys actually enjoy helping and I enjoy not having to do it all. I do cringe at the site of the folded laundry or the crumbs left on the floor but I would never redo their work in front of them. They will one day get it down but without practice, they never will.

    • Jessica July 7, 2011, 4:06 am

      I completely understand! I’ve been wanting to get a little more structured with chores with my oldest, but haven’t yet. Right now he helps out when he wants to, which is quite often! He loves doing dishes. I think some of my friends think I’m crazy, because my kids don’t use plastic dishes & my baby sleeps on the floor! 🙂

  • Ashleigh August 29, 2011, 3:31 pm

    It is so refreshing to see this! I think we forget that these little things are opportunities to learn and to teach. We have incorporated simple chores into our school day…Mondays are sweep and mop day, Wednesdays are Dust and vaccum day. We take turns and it takes 10 minutes. It’s done. They’ve learned that being part of a family, a team, a good citizen is chipping in and I dont have to use nap times to clean the house!

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