Montessori Practical Life Lesson: Polishing Wood

Today’s Montessori practical life lesson introduces polishing.

Who polishes in today’s fast–paced world full of spray–and–wipe cleaners? After thinking about it, I don’t even have a can of Pledge in the house (though some furniture could use it!). So how practical is a practical life lesson on polishing?

Montessori Practical Life Lesson: Polishing Wood - Practical life lessons for preschoolers

From the developmental standpoint, very practical. Though all the practical life lessons involve order and sequence, the polishing exercises are excellent for building the mental task of sequencing.

Dr. Montessori had a lot to say about the importance of order in the child’s activities and surroundings. She posited that external order helps the child to build mental order. For an excellent treatment of this idea, see Chapter 9 in the book Montessori, The Science Behind the Genius by Angeline Stoll Lillard.

The polishing exercises require the little child to remember the order and purpose of each item used. They involve more steps than the preliminary exercises of pouring or spooning. As we’ve mentioned before, the adult determines how difficult a lesson should be based on her observations. If you think your child is ready for more challenge than dry pouring or spooning, try polishing!

How to Present Polishing Wood


  • Direct: sequencing–awareness of the exact order and purpose of each item used; awareness of light muscular action vs. energetic; contributing to the care of the environment
  • Indirect: coordination, concentration, and independence


Age: 2 1/2 – 4


1. Bring the materials to the table.

2. Put on aprons.

3. Spread out placemat and place the basket to the side.

4. Lay out the materials left to right at the top of the mat: full bottle, dish, cotton ball, rubbing cloth, buffing cloth.

5. Retrieve an item to polish and put it on the mat.

6. Open the polish and put a few drops in the dish; close and replace it.

7. Dip the cotton ball gently in the polish, getting a small amount.

8. Apply polish to the object with up and down, left to right movements. Dip again as needed. Look with interest as it dries a little.

9. Wrap the rubbing cloth into a mitt on your fingers and rub the polish in using circular motions until the polish is all rubbed in.

10. Now wrap the buffing cloth into a mitt and vigorously buff the object. Look for sheen.

11. Clean up (child accompanies you):

  • make sure the bottle lid is tight
  • wipe the dish out with cotton ball
  • throw away the cotton ball and get a new one
  • put soiled cloths in the hamper and get fresh ones
  • put all items in the basket

12. Invite the child to begin again.

Points of Interest:

  • Does the child use the items in the proper order?
  • Can she manipulate the dropper (squeeze and let go)?
  • Does she put only a few drops of polish in the dish?
  • Does she rub lightly and buff with pressure and quickness?


Variations on polishing include polishing metal (brass, silver, copper, chrome, stainless steel) and glass (small mirror):

Montessori Practical Life Lesson on Wood Polishing, with examples of leather polishing, silver polishing, mirror polishing, metal polishing kit set-ups

If you have the child put on an apron for this work, you should also wear an apron when presenting it.

Keep the polish bottle full for your child’s spontaneous choice of this work.

Any wood will do: a small box or lid or small decorative item. We had carved wooden animals–zebra, giraffe, hippo–in the classroom that the children loved to polish.

My polishing exercises were color–coded. Each one had a different colored placemat with matching basket (spray painted) and apron. The cloths were coordinated too, e.g., light pink for rubbing and dark pink for buffing. External order!

To learn more about Montessori theory, please visit my blog A Montessori Lexicon, and you can also find me on Teachers Pay Teachers.

To see wood polishing in action — and a fun homemade toy that you could combine with wood polishing, check out our Spring Waldorf Hand Kite or Fall Waldorf Hand Kite.

diy spring waldorf hand kite tutorial

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