Today we continue our Montessori practical life series with a lesson on washing a table. Dr. Montessori suggested that the practical life activities be real activities that link the child to the environment and ground her in reality.
In the first children’s houses, she observed that the children, when given an option, usually preferred real activities over imaginary ones. They liked making a real contribution to the care of their environment.
Though the child may be conscious of helping, she will be unconscious of the personal growth that comes about through doing an orderly and meaningful task.
Dr. Montessori saw layers of benefits in a simple activity such as washing a table: adaptation to the environment and culture, refinement of gross and fine motor skills, development of mental order, concentration, self-direction, and functional independence.
The advanced practical life activities involve memory, planning, self-control, and goal-directed behavior–nowadays what we call the executive functions.
So let’s look at yet another great practical life lesson.
How To Present Washing a Table
- Direct: to learn the steps needed to clean a work table
- Indirect: the mental task of sequencing, motor control, concentration, and independence.
- large towel for laying materials out on the floor
- shallow basin
- sponge & dish
- soap & dish
- scrub brush (small enough for a child’s hand)
- drying cloth
- small bucket
- child’s waterproof apron
Or you can purchase the complete table washing set from Montessori Services.
Age: 2 1/2 – 4
Prerequisite: ability to pour from a pitcher into a basin; ability to follow a sequence of steps (the polishing exercise may precede this one, so that the child can learn to follow many steps).
1. Bring materials beside a table. Put on aprons.
2. Spread the large towel on the floor and lay out the materials left to right: sponge in dish, soap in dish, scrub brush, drying cloth, and basin. The pitcher and bucket above.
3. Fill the pitcher at the sink, then pour about three cups of water into the basin.
4. Submerge and wet the sponge, squeeze and shake off with a downward motion.
5. Wipe the table top to bottom, left to right. Moisten sponge as needed.
6. Pick up scrub brush and dampen, shake off with a downward motion, then apply soap.
7. Scrub the table in broad circular motions, using finer careful motions at the edge to prevent drips. Reapply soap as needed.
8. When done, rinse brush and shake off with downward motion.
9. Dampen and squeeze sponge, wipe off soap suds top to bottom, left to right as before, rinsing the sponge as needed.
10. Dry the table with the drying cloth. Look for damp spots.
11. Say, “Now it’s your turn. I’ll get the materials ready for you.”
12. Pour used water into the bucket. Rinse basin, empty again.
13. The child begins again, and does as you did.
To clean up:
- Pour basin into the bucket.
- Pour fresh water into the basin to rinse the sponge and brush. Dry dishes.
- Empty basin into the bucket. Rinse basin again and empty.
- Empty pitcher into bucket.
- Dry the basin and pitcher with drying cloth.
- Empty bucket and dry.
- Put damp cloth/towels in hamper, get dry ones.
- Store all materials.
Points of Interest:
- Does the child scrub in a large circular motion?
- Does she use small controlled circles near the edge of the table?
- Does she remove all soap suds from the table with the sponge?
- Does she rinse the sponge as needed?
- Does she dry all materials?
Notes: This activity can be very settling for children new to a classroom or learning environment.
I found a simple variation of this activity to be therapeutic for some children who needed a calming large-muscle activity. My simple variation consisted of applying shaving cream to a child-sized table and allowing the child to use her hands or a brush to spread the shaving cream in large circular motions. The next step involved wiping the shaving cream off in orderly strokes with a large sponge, which was rinsed in a bucket of clean water after each pass. Finally, we dried the table with a clean cloth.
For a fun addition, you can demonstrate putting a few drops of food coloring in the shaving cream.
Brushes with natural bristles create more bubbles!