One of the hallmarks of Montessori education at every age from birth on up is the development of the independence in a child. It’s always astonishing to parents who first tour a Montessori school what children are capable of from such a young age. When showing a Montessori classroom to perspective families, they always remark on the level of engagement, the focus and concentration, the order, and they marvel at the teacher’s ability to handle a group of young children with seeming ease.
This is not by chance.
From the moment a child steps foot into a Montessori classroom, the Lead Teacher is acutely aware of her developing abilities. How is she at taking her shoes off and putting them into her cubby? Is she able to organize her belongings? Can she use the restroom successfully and complete the steps of handwashing? (yes, there are steps!)
Once we access where the child is, we work to bolster skills from where the child is. In Montessori we talk about “following the child”. We meet them where they are in their development and take them, one step at a time, further and further toward mastery, which means complete independence.
It seems like a straightforward and unified goal that school and parents would share for the child. What parent doesn’t want their child to be independent? To “do it for themselves”?
Well, sometimes we are just not ready to give up “helping” our children to do things. Perhaps we think they will fail, and they need the support. Perhaps we believe they lack the confidence or they are “too little” to perform a task. Maybe we are in a hurry, and it’s just easier to “do it for them”. Or maybe, deep down, we need to be needed, and we are just not ready to relinquish the desire to offer our help.
Whatever might be motivating us, it’s important to remember that our children are supremely capable, and when offered the right amount of time, (yes, it takes a three-year-old some time to manipulate a pair of pants or shorts properly to pull them up around the waist), the right amount of encouragement, and when we break a process down into steps, children can do so many things ALL BY THEMSELVES.
Here is a list of age-appropriate tasks that can be completed autonomously by children at the following ages:
Toddlers (Ages 2-3)
Starting children early can help ease any arguing about doing the chores as they become older and begin to test boundaries. Toddlers are an age where they find the idea of helping one of the most exciting things they can do. A few examples of chores that toddlers can do are:
- Put their toys away
- Fill up a cat or dog’s food bowl
- Place clothes in the hamper
- Dust or wipe baseboards with socks on their hands
- Pile up books and magazines on shelves or tables
- Help make the beds
- Mop small areas with a dry mop
Preschoolers (Ages 4-5)
Preschoolers still feel the same desire to help their parents, because they are still learning through copying their elders. At this age, there are even some chores children can do without supervision. The reason for this increase in ability is that preschoolers have started to master the skills necessary to complete tasks unsupervised. Their handeye coordination
will have increased, as will have their ability to follow more complex instructions. Preschoolers may be able to remember and follow instructions up to two or three steps at a time. In addition to the chores listed above, preschoolers can typically help with the following chores:
- Make their bed without supervision
- Clear the table
- Pull weeds
- Use a hand-held vacuum for crumbs or room edges
- Water flowers
- Put away clean utensils
- Wash plastic dishes with supervision
- Assist an older sibling with setting the table
- Help bring in light groceries
- Sort laundry into whites and colors before wash
- Match socks together
- Dust with a cloth
- Care for an animal’s food and water dishes
Primary Children (Ages 6-9)
Once a child reaches primary school age, they can take on a lot more responsibility without supervision. They can start learning more physically difficult or complex tasks, as they are continuing to learn the necessary skills to do so. Parents should understand that this age group will sometimes start “rebelling” against the idea of chores, as they learn more
independence. With patience, however, they will understand they are still expected to help around the home. At school we talk about everyone having a job in the care of our classroom environment. Some children may never rebel against their chores. Whether they do or not will largely depend on their own unique personalities. In addition to the chores
listed for both toddlers and preschoolers above, primary schoolers between the ages of 6 and 9 can usually do the following chores:
- Sweep the floors
- Help make bagged or boxed lunches
- Rake the yard
- Clean their own bedrooms, with minimal supervision
- Put away the groceries
- Load the dishwasher
- Empty the dishwasher or drain
- Help a parent prepare supper
- Make their own snacks/breakfast
- Scrub the table after meals
- Put away their own laundry
- Take the family dog for a walk (in the yard or with supervision)
- Wet mop
- Empty indoor trash bins into the kitchen trash
Upper Primary/Middle Schoolers (Ages 10-13)
Preteens or middle schoolers can do many tasks on their own and can be held responsible for them without constant reminders. At this age, many families decide to create a chore chart or task list for their children. Then, parents can hold the child responsible and check just once a day to see that things were checked off the list or chart. This helps children learn not only self-reliance, but how to be responsible for themselves when nobody is looking. In addition to all the tasks listed in the sections above for younger ages, children between the ages of 10 and 13 should be able to do the following chores:
- Wash the dishes or load the dishwasher without assistance
- Wash the family car
- Prepare easy meals without assistance
- Use the clothes washer and dryer
- Take the trash to the bins
- Take the trash bins to the curb
- Babysit younger siblings with parents at home
Our children are capable of so much, and they actually find fulfilment in having a purpose and being a part of their school or household community. Bali can be tricky; there is a culture of helpers and nannies and the chance for lots of tasks to be completed by other well-meaning individuals.
This summer when your children are home with you, think about the fact that they are used to “doing it for themselves” at school. They have daily classroom chores and jobs. What can you ask them to do at home to help out, to stay in that rhythm, that may ultimately, bring them more satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment and belonging?