Upon reflection of my days teaching small children I recollected the many whole group lessons I created on basic tasks such as how to hang up your painting and how to remove your lunch box from your bag and re-zip it so all and sundry wouldn't cascade on the floor below. We sat in small groups and practised cleaning up our paint spills with a damp cloth and tried every manner of stuffing the blocks into the shelf until we realised that an ordered approach worked best. My goal was to foster a certain independence in my class by providing them with step by step instructions on how to do everyday things. Success was inevitable when tasks where broken down into smaller increments and pride was palpable.
Yes there was mess, yes many lessons were repeated over and over in the early days eating into an already crammed curriculum but giving my charges the necessary tools to do things for themselves not only gave them great pleasure but made day to day learning so much easier and richer in the long term. My time could be spent facilitating deep learning as opposed to putting out spot fires on the clean up front. Maria Montessori's philosophy that children are capable and competent beings was (and still is) something I believed in very strongly. Our little people rise far beyond our expectations when given the ladder to do so.
In the hustle and bustle of family domesticity however, I found myself straying from these ideals.
I had morphed into a human cyclone wiping the table with one hand whilst stooping to pick up stray blocks with the other. Convenience reigned as completing tasks by myself was easier and quicker and shamefully indulged my perfectionist tendencies. I stood back and realised my little buddy was at my side throughout it all. Bijou was already a very eager and equally competent helper in the kitchen so I dusted off my teaching philosophies and went about increasing more opportunities for her to contribute to our daily world. These are some of the changes we are making:
- A cupboard rearrange made way for a thrifted basket filled with a set of cutlery, napkins and coasters for our dinner. Placemats are kept nearby. I spent many early evenings demonstrating putting one placemat for each person in our family and retrieving the basket from the cupboard. Glasses were moved down low and Bijou was shown time and time again how to carry them one at a time to the table. This simple task is now labelled as her job and although somewhat time consuming in the beginning I am grateful for her help in that often crazy pre-dinner dash.
- Perfection is not paramount. Her lopsided bed making is greeted with cheers of triumph and I give myself a sharp slap on the hand during the day if the desire to straighten it starts to overwhelm.
- An old potato "chipper" has become the perfect knife for her and she now cuts fruit for our morning tea and vegetables for dinner in her Hi-Tot using her very own chopping board. The haphazard shapes make me smile as I stir the soup pot and think of her growing independence. Similar tools can be found online at Michael Olaf. We will soon add a masher, a safety vegetable peeler and egg slicer to her kitchen tools.
- A small dustpan and brush was also purchased and we spent gentle time together practising holding the dustpan on an angle and sweeping slowly and carefully. The challenge was keeping the dustpan straight whilst navigating her way to the bin but over time she has mastered this and now comes from far and wide if there is a spill in house such is her eagerness to help.
- Slowing down our days further to allow time to "teach" basic skills and explain why we do things a certain way has become the way we operate lately. We've learnt the hard way why we need to screw the lid on the milk not just place it there.
- The mirror from an old baby toy was removed and adhered to a low bathroom cupboard door with blu-tak and many (oh yes many) lessons were had on squeezing just the right amount of toothpaste onto the toothbrush and brushing her teeth. She, like most children adores watching herself in the mirror. This simple addition to the bathroom has made the dreaded teeth brushing saga far more enjoyable. We always give them a quick going over also but I can really see how competent she is getting at this essential life skill.
- A washer is always laid over the bath and we have practised turning on the tap gently, dampening the washer and squeezing it out using the sides of the basin to help. After meals we send her in to check her face in her mirror and tidy herself up if needed.
- With the aid of a small step Bijou now helps with simple hand washing. She is responsible for hanging out the "smalls" on her little wooden washing line. (A piece of thin rope tied between two points would do the job). We chat merrily as I peg out the bigger garments and she takes care of all the little things. We invested in good quality pegs to give her the best chance of success I am ever on the hunt for a perfect Bijou sized washing basket for her to place her dry and folded washing in.
- Morning tea has become a simple and predictable snack of peeled mandarin, chopped apple, grapes and a few cracker's with nut butter with a drink of milk sweetened with a whisker of honey and raw cacao powder. With all the ingredients and tools laid out for her my baby bird can make our mid morning nourishment almost entirely on her own.
Do you involve your babies in your day to day world? What tasks do you have them help with and have you found any tools that have helped? I'd love for you to share.