Practical Life: Grating Soap

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We’re back with another Montessori Practical Life Lesson from Beth Holley of A Montessori Lexicon.

Today, Beth is sharing how to grate soap with the kids, which might seem like an obscure task for a child — but it’s the first step in making clean mud or homemade laundry detergent.

Grating soap is also a bit more “shelf stable” than putting out an invitation to grate cheese, and children are more able to keep repeating the work whenever they want to, which is a key aspect in the Montessori Method that often gets overlooked.

Of course, learning to grate soap translates to other grating activities — as Beth explains.

Montessori Practical Life Lesson: Grating Soap

Grating soap is one of the easiest to assemble and easiest to do practical life activities. Children from toddler to school age love the smell and feel of fine soap shavings. “What does one do with grated soap?” you might ask. As much as possible, I try to include practical life activities that serve real needs, so that the child sees her work as meaningful.
Grated soap can be saved and used to create suds in the cloth washing exercise. If you collect a variety of exotic smelling soaps such as those sold at Whole Foods, the shavings can be put in the Montessori smelling bottles. Sandalwood soap smells very different from lavender soap. If you’re grating fragrant soap at home, you can add it to bath water, creating a nice spa experience.

How to Present Grating Soap

  • Direct: to develop the movements needed for manipulating a grater;
  • Indirect: to strengthen the hand in preparation for writing; independence and concentration.

Age: 2 ½ – 5
1. Invite the child to carry the tray to the table.
2. Sit. Show the grater and say, “This is a grater. I’m going to use it to grate soap that we can use later.”
3. Place the grater on top of the smaller tray.
4. Pick up the soap, and demonstrate the downward stroke needed to grate it.
5. Grate a small amount of soap, then put the soap down.
6. Pick up the grater to show your shavings.
7. Replace the grater and invite the child to try.
8. You may show the child how to collect the shavings into a jar or tin for later use.

Points of Interest:
Does the child firmly steady the grater when grating?
Does she apply enough pressure to create shavings?
Does she keep her fingers and knuckles away from cutting edges?
Note: Grating and using a mild soap like Ivory for cloth washing is easier on tender hands than laundry or dish detergent.
Personally, I like paddle graters (the ones with a handle on one end and the grater on the other). For some children, the outward stroke of a paddle grater is easier than the up and down stroke of a stand–up grater. Rotary graters are nice too, but you will have to pre–chunk the soap to fit in the compartment.
If you use a vegetable peeler/shaver instead of a grater, a julienne peeler (one with teeth on the blade) makes nice spaghetti–like shavings for whipping into suds. A straight peeler makes flat shavings that can be added to bath water. Peelers work better on whole bars of soap.
Learning to grate with soap translates to grating anything. Making a salad? Your child might enjoy grating some carrots. Mac and cheese? Grated cheese. Zucchini bread? Let’s grate some zucchini!
To learn more about Montessori theory, please visit my blog A Montessori Lexicon, and you can also find me on Teachers Pay Teachers.  
If you want to see this lesson in action, my friend Tanya has a video of her kids grating soap on her blog, The Natural Homeschool.
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  1. What a fun idea! My kiddo has tried grating a few things, but never soup! I can’t wait to see the excitement on his face when I set this up 🙂

  2. Thank you so much for this. I have two questions if you don’t mind, the first is what do you use the grated soap for later? and second, is do you have guidelines on using a peeler? I know you have a couple of lines in this article about using a peeler instead but my son and I had a bad experience where he picked up a peeler on his own and cut himself so both of us are incredible nervous to try to say the least :(. I would be interested in what kind of peeler (handle long, short, peeler long/short, handle thick/thin, etc) and if you have a good one that worked well for your little one, I would grately appreciate it. My son is 27 months now.

    1. Hi Dina,
      You can use the grated soap to make clean mud or it can even be used to make a gentle, homemade laundry detergent – but I think the clean mud is a lot more fun and rewarding for the kids. This work originated when grated soap was used for a lot of household tasks, but I think it’s still worthwhile/relevant because it’s a task that mimics cheese grating, without having to keep cheese available to the kids for grating at all times.
      I didn’t find any peelers that seemed super kid-safe to me (other than apple peelers which require a lot of adult involvement in setting them up) but when my daughter was about 6 I started her with a Y-shaped peeler (rather than the stick-style, if that makes sense?) and she’s never had any cuts with it.

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