Posts tagged Practical Life
This Is the Way We Wash a Wall: the montessori way!

An hand-crank eggbeater utensil, a bowl, and a drop of concentrated soap is an activity any toddler or preschooler will enjoy….and after the fun inside the bowl, why not have a cleaning frenzy?

Children love to clean, and when they get into it, sometimes they can't quite stop.

Let’s give them a huge canvas to explore possibilities.

All you need is a bowl of soapy water, a sponge, and a drying cloth.

I recommend very little actual water. You can always add more later. The sponge should be child sized. That means if you have a toddler, you may want to cut a regular sponge in thirds and give your child a third.

If your child is older, half a sponge may be quite appropriate. This way little hands can feel secure with the right sized tool. I also recommend that if you have more than one child, you give each child his own sponge and bowl so he can go where he likes to clean in his own space.

It is helpful if you give some boundaries. If you want your child to focus on a small section of wall that is especially dirty, you may consider putting some masking tape around the area that you want cleaned and asking the child to stay within the square.

I also recommend giving a lesson on how to wash the wall first.

The Lesson

  1. Carefully gather your supplies and put them right in front of the wall to wash. If in the classroom, this would include putting on an apron (children, too).

  2. Silently inspect the wall and use your fingers to point to dirty spots. You may even wrinkle your nose a little and say matter of factly, "This wall is dirty." 

  3. In exaggerated fashion, dip the sponge and squeeze out the water. Drip, drip, drip. Again. Dip. Squeeze. Drip, drip, drip. Say, "Now, I am ready to wash the wall." 

  4. Scrub. Smile and nod in satisfaction. Put the sponge back down. Use your drying cloth to dry the area.

  5. Say, "Now this part of the wall is clean. It's your turn."

Montessori Water Play PIN1

Ready. Set. Scrub!

Well, after this long lesson, the children are probably dying to jump in there, so go for it! Sing songs about washing like "This is the way we wash the walls" to the tune of "Here we go round the Mulberry Bush." 

Make a big soapy mess and then use your whole body to dry the soapy area. You can see in the pictures how my kids were loving this and dancing around. If you're dancing and having fun, they will, too.

Bonus: Your house gets cleaner, not messier! ;)

Print This Free Montessori Lesson

Download the printable version of this lesson and add it to your homeschooling binder or share with a friend.

Here’s what it looks like, except unfortunately, I will be unable to email you the soap & sponge! I know you’re disappointed, but at least you can get the lesson, right?

washing wall lesson photo.jpg

Download your free printable lesson.

  1. Download the lesson. You’ll get the lesson, plus gentle, compassionate parenting tips and information about educating your child at home.

  2. Print and add this lesson to your binder, share it with a friend, or use it with your Montessori homeschooling planner.

  3. Try this activity with your child! It’s a winner!

    Going Grocery Shopping With Kids? Read This First!

    It’s a common scene in the checkout aisle: a tired-looking parent is hurriedly putting the grocery items on the conveyor belt. A baby sits in the front of the cart clutching a teething toy. A three year old stamps her feet impatiently and then inspects the candy bars at eye level.

    It begins with a tiny whine but quickly turns into an attention-getting wail. Two options are quickly obvious to the parent: buy the candy bar or endure an embarrassing meltdown in public. Fortunately, there is a way to avoid grocery store tantrums and it comes down to four steps.

    1. Role-play It at home

    2. Give Reminders first

    3. Be Responsive to Their Wishes

    4. Set Realistic Expectations

    1. Role play it at home

    A little preparation goes a long way. Here’s how.

    1. On a table or on a rug, have your child help you set up some objects to “buy.” Get a piece of paper and only write down a few of the objects on the list.
    2. Get a basket to gather the items you need to “buy.” Then, pretend you are going shopping. Show your child the list and read the first item on the list. Select that item.
    3. Intentionally reach for an item that you know is not on the list and stop yourself before putting it in your basket, reminding yourself that you aren’t going to buy it at this time.
    4. When you are finished with your pretend shopping, return the items to the rug and help your child make a list for his/her own basket.


    “I’m going to go grocery shopping, but first I need a list….Okay, I’ve got my list! Now I’ll shop. First I need… Oh look at this! Wait - it’s not on the list. Maybe I’ll put this on my list for next week, but I’m not buying it today. Let me look at the list again. I need….”

    2. Give a reminder just before you go in

    Before you actually enter any store, remind your child what the expectations are for shopping. Do this by taking the time to bend down to your child’s level, make eye contact, and speak clearly and calmly. Tell your child exactly what you will do in the store together.  


    “We’re going to go into the grocery store now. You will get to sit in the cart, and we will do our shopping together. Do you remember how we played grocery shopping yesterday? Well, here’s our REAL list! I’m going to need your help. We only need things that are on the list… Can you help me stick to the list?”  


    “Remember that when we go into the grocery store, we will walk, not run. We don’t want to bump into anyone and hurt them! We will choose the items on our list, and we’ll be done soon. Then, we’ll be ready to take you to the playground this afternoon.”

    3. Be Responsive to their Wishes

    Grocery stores are designed for one thing in mind -- to get you to buy what’s on the shelves! Everyone can be susceptible to the desires for wanting to buy what isn’t needed. Your child may want something that is definitely NOT on the list, and if you say “no” and argue as to why it’s a “no," you may be in for a meltdown.

    The trick here is to respond and respect your child’s wishes as valid, human feelings that are worthy of your attention. Be prepared to listen, answer empathetically (yet firmly!) and move on.


    “I see that you really want to buy this, but it’s not on our list for today. Would you like for us to consider putting it on a list for next time?”  


    “I know how you feel! You really want this. I wish we could buy it! I want it too!” 

    4. Set Realistic Expectations

    What grocery store will be easiest for you and your child to navigate? Is it the tiny, local shop on the corner with fewer purchasing choices? Or is it the big superstore with wide aisles? If you go shopping at 8:00am on a weekday, will it be less crowded? Or is the better time on a weekend in the evening?

    If you can pinpoint the right store and the best times for doing your shopping, it could be worth the effort.

    Young children have limited attention spans and limited tolerance for overwhelming situations. Consider bringing a toy to fiddle with in the cart or snack to eat while shopping. Don’t forget that even with very small children, taking the time to smell the oranges that you are buying can engage their short-lived interest a little longer.

    For older children, consider giving them a list of their own to help shop with, or send them on mini-errands to pick up items. Most children love helping out when the work is purposeful. If you can involve them in the planning and in their own behavioral expectations, you'll have even more success!


    “Oooh, look how red and smooth the apples are this week! Would you like to feel how smooth it is?”


    “The next thing on my list is bread. What’s the next thing on your list?”  

    Your Plan of Action

    Do you see a common theme here running throughout all of these suggestions? Having an overall plan and including your child in the responsibilities involved with shopping will help you get through your shopping experience in the smoothest way possible!  

    Start now by writing down the answers to these questions on a pad of paper and make your plan now.

    1. Where do you commonly go shopping? List all the stores. 
    2. Which stores seem to be easiest for your children to navigate? List the top 2. 
    3. Which stores seem to be the hardest for your children to handle? List the worst 2. 
    4. What are your expectations for your children in the store -- Sit in the cart? Walk beside you? Snack while shopping? Make sure YOU are clear on these answers before talking to your children. 
    5. Have you role-played shopping? If not, put it on your to-do list now. 
    6. Practice your language. Your child wants to buy a candy bar. You've decided it's not on your list. What are you going to say? 

    Happy shopping! 

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    The Garlic Peeling Work: A Lesson in Mindset

    If you ever find yourself wanting to practice patience, I suggest no greater classroom than a house with a toddler. 

    Case in point. One morning, as I sleepily stirred oatmeal on the stove, I glanced over to the fridge just in time to see the door fly open and my youngest son jump out clutching a bulb of garlic. I hear him "oooooh" and giggle mischievously to himself.

    He brings the garlic over to his child-sized kitchen table, sits down, and begins to peel the cloves.

    I think to myself, "Garlic?  Yuck. That's going to make a mess."

    I close my eyes and imagine myself wrestling the garlic bulb from his baby fingers and then enduring the tantrum that will likely ensue.

    Not worth it, I think.  I'll clean up the mess later.

    So I just turn around and pour my coffee. The smell of garlic starts to mix with the smell of coffee. Gross.

    The Work Finds the Child

    The melange of oatmeal, coffee, garlic combine with frustration and helplessness. Then I turn around and see that the concentration on his face. With extreme care and focus, he's getting those papery garlic peels off with his itty bitty fingernails.

    At this point, some part of my brain recognizes that this is his work. It is taking focused effort, and I see that he is using the pincer grip, developing his fine motor skills.

    In fact, Montessori believed that this kind of fine motor skill practice was essential in preparation for writing.

    The Garlic Peeling Work

    In Montessori classrooms, you will see many different ways teachers inspire their youngest learners to strengthen their fingers.

    I have never heard of the "garlic peeling work", but that's probably because it is very smelly and the entire classroom would end up smelling like my kitchen.

    The child is very aware of the strong smell, too, and he loves it.  He rubs his nose all over the garlic.  He tastes it.  He sucks on his fingers.

    He is very intense and not aware of me at all. He gets two cloves of garlic totally peeled, stands up, and rummages around in the kitchen drawer. He emerges with the cherry pitter and says, "This?"  

    It dawns on me that he is looking for the garlic press.  I retrieve it from the drawer and exchange it for the cherry pitter.  "Yes, this!" he exclaims.

    He returns to his table and proceeds to press the garlic cloves one at a time, squeezing as hard as he can.  I wordlessly set a bowl down on his table, and he carefully places the garlic cloves into the bowl, throws the garlic press into the sink, and races upstairs because he hears his brother.

    Recreating the Lesson

    The house is reeking of garlic, and I sip my coffee thinking... the garlic peeling work.  What a great Montessori idea. Except for the smelliness.

    I think about how I would set it up in my classroom.

    A tray, preferably easily washable.

    Two little bowls on it. 

    On the left, a bowl just big enough to hold the garlic bulb. On the right, another bowl for the peeled cloves.  

    Maybe a red tray with little white bowls.

    A garlic press between them.  

    The teacher would model cradling the garlic bulb, probing it with her fingers and sniffing it. She would pick at the garlic and act surprised when she revealed the clove inside. She would demonstrate how to peel the garlic, press the garlic, and perhaps quietly suggest that the peeled, pressed cloves will be stored and used for cooking later that day.

    She would show the child how to put the garlic skins in the classroom compost bin and make sure the tray is all clean and ready for the next person before returning to the shelf.  She would finish the lesson by washing her hands and drying them.

    This is how I see "doing Montessori" as a teacher.   

    Preparing the Environment

    Do you know that in general, Montessori teachers spend hours thinking a simple work through like this - every single work in the classroom! The perfect sized tray is selected and the perfect bowls are chosen...the bowls that are the most functional and aesthetically appealing.

    The teacher practices both the activity and the lesson several times to make sure no steps are left out. The work on the tray is set out from left to right, to mimic the way a person reads and writes. This is the teacher preparing the environment for the children.

    Montessori is A State of Mind

    When I talk to parents how to "do Montessori" at home, they are often amazed. In their minds, they're imaging the famously beautiful, prepared Montessori classrooms. This is not what they would see if they walk into my perpetually messy home. 

    What they would see, though, is respect for the child's choice - a cornerstone of Montessori. Example:

    • In the classroom, the child chooses the garlic pressing work off of a clean, inviting shelf, takes it to his table, and performs the work with concentration.
    • At home, the child sneaks into the fridge, selects the garlic to work with, takes it to his table, explores it, retrieves the press from its home in the kitchen, and feels purposeful about it.

    Different but no. In both, the adult is driven by a respect for the child's choice and his work. She honors this moment. She allow it. She recognizes that it is the child's real work and that is what makes you "doing Montessori" in your home, not because you have set up some pretty shelves with works on trays.

    How do you see yourself  "doing Montessori"?  I bet it's more often than you realize!

    21 Montessori Water Activities For Your Practical Life Shelf

    Let's get some Montessori water activities on your practical life shelf! Don't have space for a shelf? Don't worry! Just keep some of these object handy for when kids seem ready for a bit of water play.

    1. Pour water from two tiny pitchers back and forth. Any glass or ceramic creamer-style will work for the Pre-K crowd, but for toddlers, tiny metal creamer pitchers are best.

    2. Spoon water with a ladle from a big bowl to another big bowl.

    3. Spoon little floating objects (corks?) from one bowl into another bowl.

    4. Spoon little sinking toys (marbles?) from one bowl into another bowl.

    5. Try tongs instead of spoons for #'s 3 and 4!

    6. Use a baster to transfer water from one bowl to another.

    7. Use a funnel to fill small vases with water from a pitcher. Then dumping the water back into the pitcher. This is is preparatory work for the flower arranging work.

    9. Squeeze a sponge from one bowl to the other to transfer the water.

    10. Gather small objects from around the house (that won't be hurt by water). Find out which ones float and which ones sink.

    11. Experiment with color mixing. Three small glasses of colored water (red, yellow, blue food coloring) and several small empty bowls. Use an eye dropper or a pipette to make different colors in the bowls.

    12. Whisk one drop of dishwashing liquid in a big bowl of water.

    13. Try an eggbeater in #12 instead of a whisk!

    14. Try grating some bar soap into #12 instead of using dishwashing liquid. (Supervise this one closely.)

    Keep a towel and a nice, sturdy tray handy to catch any spills.

    15. Fill two bowls with water, one hot and one cold. Add one piece of ice into each. Which melts faster?

    16. Use a medicine syringe to transfer tiny amounts of water from one glass to another.

    17. An outside game: Fill a giant plastic pitcher or watering can. Pour the water into a large bucket. Haul the bucket to a kiddie swimming pool and fill it up. Then play!

    18. Have a tea party with real tea (rooibos or berry tea are caffeine-free options.) 

    19.  Scrub a section of the kitchen floor with a small bowl of soapy water and a sponge cut in half.

    20. Put a water-safe baby doll into a large bowl or tub. Add a small pitcher of water, one pump of liquid soap, and a small washcloth.

    21. Mustard/ketchup bottle squeezing. Fill an old squeeze bottle with water and squeeze directly into a bowl.

    Get Rid of (Most of) Your Kids Toys

    Every three months or so I go crazy decluttering my house and removing nearly all of the children's toys. I'm not an organized person by nature, so while my minimalist goals may never be reached, I find the process necessary for my own sanity.

    While I'm on the three month declutter mission, my closets fill with giant garbage bags and fill up with items for the Goodwill: clothes, instantly regretted IKEA purchases, and of course, some of the children's toys.

    It's the toys, of course, that are the hardest for me to part with. Not only would my children heavily protest if they saw the way I snuck out half their closet into a garbage bag, the toys are memory burdens for me, too. They remind me of the family members who gave them to us and also of the time flown by. Weren't my children so much younger just six months ago?

    Toys, Not Manipulatives

    As a Montessori homeschooling parent, I've got a lot of materials at our disposal on several shelves in my dining room. A shelf of reading, writing, and art supplies, a shelf for math manipulatives, and a shelf for science and geography.

    These are different from toys. They're purposeful and available at all times but also not to be carried around willy nilly as one likes. The children know the difference between the two. I'm not talking about purging these precious learning materials. (At least not yet.)

    Do kids really need all those toys?

    I'm talking about the junky stuff. Toy cars, talking Elmos, costumes, plastic baubles, check-out line plastic nonsense, old party favors, stuffed animals. They creep into our house with the holidays from relatives and impulse buys. They're scattered underneath the couch and behind dressers.

    Some are favorites, like Nuff, the giant stuffed alligator that my husband bought our oldest for his birthday just before his brother was born. And some are just sentimental, like the wooden baby toys I can't seem to part with.

    Will They Notice?

    While I'm picking out items to Goodwill, I am suddenly swept up in a catharsis of cleanliness. If their bedroom looks and feels better with fewer toys out, would it feel even better with no toys at all?

    I begin stuffing toys into ziplock baggies and tucking them into the downstairs closet until all that is left in their room is clothes and books.

    I still fear that my children will hate me for this, but every time they surprise me. They don't even notice that the toys have disappeared. At least, not in the sense I am afraid of.

    Will They Care?

    If anything, they seem to relish the dramatic change. They slide around on the bare floor in socks and dive under the blankets and tell each other stories under the glow of a flashlight. They leap in circles around the house, as if their bodies are literally lighter than before the purge.

    Out come the scissors and paper and glue. Ideas for new projects appear out of nowhere. Suddenly, we can all concentrate on our real work without the distractions. It's good for us. So, so good.

    THe Choice

    Did you know that Maria Montessori's first classroom was full of toys? Her school was a social project, and it received a lot of publicity. Many wealthy people wanted to help the poor, neglected children she was working with, and from these donations, the children had lovely, high-end toys to play with.

    She noticed something odd, though. The toys were gathering dust.

    Maria was curious. She tried to spark an interest by rearranging them and sitting down to play with the toys herself, "showing them how to handle the tiny dishes, lighting the fire in the doll's kitchen, and placing it near a pretty doll." (The Secret of Childhood)

    The children simply were not inspired. Their attention spans were much shorter with the toys than the other activities in the classroom, and they did not even notice when she removed them.

    Her conclusion? Children use toys to pass their time, much like an adult uses a game of chess. (Or in modern times, perhaps a app game?) It's relaxing and fun. But when something important comes along, the game is forgotten. We have jobs to do. The real world wins.

    Real Work Appeals

    It's the same with children and toys. A few open-ended toys are fine. They can make a room cheerier. They can be used in imaginative dramatic play. Soft ones can be cuddled. The ones with wheels can race. Dolls can be tended to.

    But you don't need many, and it's not because fantasy play is evil. It's because they are passing fancies when compared to the real work a child chooses in order to learn a developmental skill.

    My current purge-fest is almost finished. We have a few baskets in the living room - a set of rainbow blocks, a few cars, a basket of playsilks and fun fabrics, a toy ukulele, and a plastic gears set. Oh, and the walkie talkies! Those are fun! In the bedroom, the only toy is a wizard puppet that I bought for my classroom before the children were born. I really love him, but he's almost like a decoration - rarely played with.

    Downstairs in a closet where the children like to play alone is where I've thrown the remaining stuffed animals. Do we still have too many? I'm still on the hunt, looking for things that don't enhance our lives but make a mess in our heads.

    Even though the motivation's high, it's probably time to pause. In another three months, I'll do it again.

    Want to Build Fine Motor Skills? Get Nuts.

    When I was a kid, my parents took me to a restaurant where you were not only allowed to throw peanut shells all over the floor. You were actually encouraged to. Sure, it may have just been a marketing gimmick, but to a kid, it was totally awesome!

    And, in fact, shelling nuts is actually a great activity for young kids. Though you probably don't want to recreate the full "throw it on the floor" experience, having kids shell nuts helps build fine motor skills and is just as awesome today as it was in my day. 

    Build A Nut Cracking Station

    Ready to build your own nut cracking station? To start, you'll need a big tray with a tall lip to be the work area. The lip will help keep the work contained while the large size gives the children a wide range of motion.

    Next, you'll need a nut cracker (like in the photo). And, of course, you'll need nuts. Peanuts are best though pistachios are also a good one for beginner nut cracking.

    For a younger child,  pre-crack the shells so they are still challenging but doable.

    The Process

    The pincer grip

    The pincer grip

    Now that you've got the station set up, it's time to let the cracking begin.

    And here's why it's an excellent Montessori fine motor skill activity. Take a look at the photo. See the pincer grip necessary to get those shells open? That's what you're looking for.

    The actual nut cracking tool gets used on the harder shelled peanuts. It's there if you need it or want it, but my kids mostly just use their fingers, which is better for them anyway.

    Go nuts!  (I know, I know...I couldn't resist.)