A Montessori Mini-Dictionary


Dr. Maria Montessori created her methodology over a century ago, and those of us who study her work and practice her ideas know it really works for children, even all these years later.  Like any specialized approach or body of work, Montessori education incorporates unique terminology.  Curious to learn more about what we mean when we say normalized, concrete and abstract, or false fatigue?  Read on to learn more (and bookmark this post for future reference)!

Casa dei Bambini

This was the name of the first school Dr. Montessori opened in Rome, Italy.  It translates to children’s house, and references a Montessori class for 3-6 year olds.  Other names for classes for this age group include casa, primary, children’s house, or early childhood.  Casa classes are a combination of preschool and kindergarten.

concrete & abstract

Dr. Montessori believed that “the hand is the instrument of the mind.”  She understood that children learn best by doing first and internalizing later.  In Montessori classrooms, we give children specialized learning materials that they manipulate with their hands to begin grasping various concepts.  Over time, they use materials that are less concrete, and require more abstract thinking, until they are eventually able to master a skill without the use of any material at all.   

control of error

One hallmark of a Montessori education is supporting children to become independent learners.  Most of the materials children use in our classrooms incorporate a control of error; that is there is only one way to correctly use the material.  If a child uses a material incorrectly, they will not be able to complete the activity, and will understand they have made a mistake somewhere along the way.  An opportunity is provided naturally: instead of a teacher correcting a child and telling them what to do differently, the child is able to self-assess and determine what changes they need to make on their own.

cosmic education

During the elementary years, children begin seeking out answers about the universe and their place in it.  It is our job to provide children with lessons and experiences at this age that aim to satisfy their curiosity, and to give them a deeper understand of the interconnectedness of all things.  We call this broad study cosmic education.  Elementary classrooms use special impressionistic lessons to inspire children as they explore concepts such as the creation of our universe, the evolution of life on earth, the evolution of humans, and the origins of math and language.


This was the name Dr. Montessori gave to her ideas about education for adolescents.  The German word for Earth-Children, she felt we should focus less on testing and college preparation and more on self-sufficiency.  Erdkinder programs are traditionally run as farms that serve as micro-economies, with the students running and managing all aspects of operations.  Today, some Erdkinder programs interpret the ideas differently, with students running a variety of small businesses themselves.  Traditional learning is also an element of the program, and real-life experiences are often closely connected to any classroom experiences.

false fatigue

In Montessori classrooms we set aside a large chunk of time (3 hours for children 3 years of age and older) each day in which they receive lessons and work independently.  (Learn more about this in the definition of work period below.)  At a certain point during the course of this time, an adult observing will begin to notice the volume in the classroom beginning to rise, social activity beginning to increase, and an apparent decrease in productivity.  Our task is to pause, wait, and watch for the flow of the room to return naturally to its previous state.  We all need a break once in a while, and it is normal to expect that children will, at some point, need to step away from the work they have been deeply engrossed in.  In the long run, this false fatigue break actually allows them to be more productive and focus better once they return to their work.

grace & courtesy 

This phrase is applied to the approach Montessori schools have when teaching children how to interact with others.  Manners play a part of this work; we explicitly teach children how to say please, thank you, excuse me, and you’re welcome, but it’s also so much more.  We teach children how to navigate friendships, how to resolve conflict, how to express gratitude, and how to share their own feelings.    


While the term teacher is sometimes used, many Montessori schools opt for the term guide.  Our educators do not stand in the front of the classroom and impart their knowledge upon students in conventional ways.  We don’t feel that our task is to give them information, but rather to lead them toward it so they may discover it themselves.  The term guide is much more fitting.  Another traditional term that is sometimes used in our schools is directress.    


Nest in Italian, this is the term Montessori uses for the infant program.  Nido classrooms are nurturing and secure, giving babies a safe and comfortable place to begin their exploration of the world.


When Dr. Montessori began using this word to describe children a century ago, it was used with a very positive connotation.  When a child is normalized, it means they have embraced to ability to learn independently within the Montessori classroom; they are able to enter the environment confidently, select work that interests them, and complete it with concentration and perseverance.  That is not to say they never feel struggle or frustration, they have simply internalized the expectations of the environment and are joyful learners in the community.

planes of development

As a scientist, Dr. Montessori carefully studied patterns in children’s learning.  Her observations led her to notice specific planes, or stages, of development.  Each plane is marked by very specific differences in the way children view the world and learn from it.  Having this information assists educators in creating environments and utilizing approaches that teach the child according to how they are developmentally prepared to learn.  The first plane includes children ages 0-6, the second plan 6-12, the third 12-18, and the fourth 18-24.

practical life

We make it a point to teach children a range of skills they will need to be successful.  While math, language, and science certainly make the cut, there’s a lot more to life than traditional academic subjects.  Practical life exercises teach children how to clean up after themselves, how to feed themselves, or how to do any number of tasks that are required of us as we grow to become independent humans.  We do not give children pretend food to cook with or play tools; we give them beautiful, sturdy, child-sized versions of the real thing.  This allows them to take this practice seriously, and to know that we take them seriously, too.

prepared environment

This is typically what we use to refer to our classrooms, but the term could actually be applied to just about anywhere.  When a Montessori adult takes special care in creating a space that serves the child in their developmental stage and allows them to explore and learn independently, they have prepared the environment.

sensitive period

During her years of observation, Dr. Montessori noticed that children went through typical periods in which they seemed primed and ready to learn specific things.  While there is of course some variability, Montessori guides know when to expect children to be ready to learn early math skills, beginning language work, gross motor skills, and so much more.  If we introduce a skill too early a child is likely to become overwhelmed and frustrated, if we miss the window, or sensitive period, the child is likely to have lost interest to an extent.


Montessori toddler and primary classrooms provide children with a series of lessons and materials that allow them to refine their various senses.  These are referred to as sensorial materials, and help children learn differences in weight, size, color, shape, scent, sound, and more.

three-period lesson

The three-period lesson is one way Montessori guides present information and assess comprehension.  The first time information is presented to the child, the guide names it.  For example, “This is the gill of a fish.”  The second time (perhaps the same day, perhaps not), the guide will point to a picture and ask the child, “Where is the gill?”  The third, and final period consists of the guide asking, “What is this?” when they point to the gill.  This strategy may be used for presenting and assessing a wide range of skills.


Any time a child is focused on a learning activity we refer to this as work.  This does not mean the child must be writing something down on a piece of paper, in fact more often they are not.  We recognize that work looks different at different ages, and we honor its importance regardless.  

work period/cycle

Montessori schools utilize a three-hour period of time each morning in which children are able to dive deeply into their work.  We recognize that it can take some time to settle into the flow of the day, and giving children this gift of time allows them to fall into stronger patterns of learning and independence.  Older children often have a second work period/cycle during the afternoon.

Preventing Math Anxiety


Researchers from the University of Cambridge recently released a report following their study of math anxiety in primary and secondary students.  [https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/290514] Their findings illustrate interesting characteristics of children who experience math anxiety, and suggest a potential connection to interactions with teachers and parents.  The interview-based study included 2,700 children in primary and secondary school in the United Kingdom and Italy.  

What researchers discovered

Four general themes emerged from the research:

  1. Girls were more likely than boys to experience math anxiety at both the primary and secondary levels.

  2. An overall perception that math is more difficult than other subjects contributed to developing anxiety.  Children spoke about comparing themselves to others and receiving poor grades in classes and on tests.  This led to a decline in confidence and seemed to contribute to development of math anxiety.

  3. Interactions with adults is a factor.  Children in the primary grades spoke about feeling confused by the variety of methods used to teach certain skills.  Older children felt that negative interpersonal interactions with teachers and parents contributed to their anxiety.

  4. Children in secondary school felt overwhelmed by the transition from primary school.  They indicated increased pressure in regards to the difficulty of math content along with more testing and homework.

What might this mean for Montessori classrooms?

The approach and structure of Montessori classrooms is already so different from that of conventional settings; this may serve as a benefit to students learning about math.  As educators it is critical, however, to be open to new research and dedicated to creating an environment that will nurture our students and their learning in the best ways possible.

We might question: why are girls experiencing greater levels of math anxiety?  It could be beneficial to pay close attention to the girls in our classes and be ready to intervene when markers of anxiety appear.

The children in the study expressed frustration as a result of comparisons with peers.  Montessori strives to create an educational environment that downplays competition and focuses instead on intrinsic motivation.  Not asking students to take tests, not giving grades, and not having a sticker chart on the wall that displays who has memorized their multiplication facts can all help with this.

In Montessori schools we recognize that learning is not a steady, linear progression, nor is it the same for different children.  Students work through a series of materials at their own pace; teachers teach small groups or individuals and reteach as necessary, for as long as necessary, without any pressure to move along a predetermined pace.  

It can be challenging at times to compete among schools that take on more traditional methods.  Montessori schools can feel obligated to offer standardized testing and homework.  It may behoove us to recall the success Montessori has had for over a century without tests or homework.  Most importantly, even while finding a balance, we need to keep our children’s development in the forefront of our decision-making.  One question to ask while implementing something new might be, “Is this new structure affecting our students’ attitudes toward math?”

Of course, as children get older we have a responsibility to prepare them for whatever setting they will transition into.  How might we do this without compromising our ideals?  How can we present homework and testing to Montessori adolescents in such a way that they understand what will be expected of them, while continuing to support them in a supportive and non-competitive learning environment?

What might parents do to help prevent math anxiety?

More research needs to be done to determine how parents can help stave off negative feelings about mathematics.  We have a few ideas to share:

  1. Make a conscious effort to not emphasize your own math anxiety.  It’s certainly fine to share your experiences with children; this allows them to see that we can be successful in the face of adversity and challenge.  The key is to not dwell or allow any residual math anxiety to affect their own perception.  Make sure to avoid saying things like, “I’m bad at math.”  If you hear your child saying something along those lines, you might encourage them by reminding them that they’re not bad at it, it’s just an area that might feel a little more challenging right now.

  2. By all means, engage in math activities with your child!  Just remember to keep them light and fun.  We may have grown up with math drills and rewards for achievement, but a growing body of research is showing us that external rewards are not usually effective.  Math at home should be a fun way for children to see how we use numbers in our everyday lives.

  3. Trust the Montessori process.  This one can be hard.  If you are the type of parent who is actively engaged in your child’s education, you are likely to want to teach them whatever you can.  This is great!  Unfortunately, it can be hard to know exactly when a child is developmentally primed to learn a particular skill.  One common example is parents wanting to teach their child how to add larger numbers.  We believe they could grasp the concept of carrying and doing it all on pencil and paper.  While the child may be able to, Montessori curriculum utilizes materials that allow the child to arrive at such a discovery without the assistance of an adult (and often much earlier than they would typically be taught in a conventional school).  By learning first with the hand and figuring it out authentically, a child is able to understand the whys of number manipulation while simultaneously feeling a sense of empowerment and confidence.  Showing children how to use these specialized materials requires extensive training that all Montessori teachers must complete to become credentialed.  

It will be interesting to see what future research learns about math anxiety in children and how we, as adults, might support them further. 

Have you ever dealt with math anxiety?  What do you think might have made your experience different?

As always, please feel free to reach out with any questions, ideas, or to schedule a tour.

Author Spotlight: Mo Willems

Mo Willems: you either already know and love this author, or you know and love this author’s work and just don’t know him by name.  Best known for his creation of an ornery but lovable pigeon, Willems has written far too many books for us to list all of them individually here.  So, if you and your family are looking for a new author/illustrator to love, look no further! Click on the book images to go to that book’s page on Amazon.

The Pigeon Series

It’s rare to meet a parent who is not familiar with this character, but if you’re not, you’re in luck!  Pigeon (like many children) has strong feelings about what he wants to do in life.  He also has a keen sense of fairness, and often thinks life isn’t fair for him.  Children relate joyfully to this small blue bird who just wants to experience the world on his own terms but is often told he cannot.  There are nine books in this series, but we will highlight a couple of our favorites here:


Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! by Mo Willems

After a bus driver parks and needs to step away for a few minutes, our friend the pigeon begs the reader to let him drive.  He pleads, bargains, and tries every strategy he can think of to sway our minds (obviously without any luck).


The Duckling Gets a Cookie!? by Mo Willems

Sweet, charming Duckling is given a cookie as a treat.  Pigeon, of course, is exceedingly jealous and is quite vocal in expressing his feelings.  Duckling patiently lets Pigeon speak, and near the end of the story offers to give the cookie to Pigeon (though not for the reason you might think!).


The Knuffle Bunny Series 

Many children have a stuffed animal that is special to them, and Trixie is no different.  The child in the stories is named after Willems’ own daughter, Trixie, who adores her stuffed rabbit: Knuffle Bunny.  This three-book series grows along with Trixie, but you might want to start with the first book:


Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems

Trixie is a toddler who has not yet started to talk.  Waving goodbye to Mom, she and her dad take a walk to the local laundromat.  It is here that Trixie’s dad mistakenly tosses Knuffle Bunny, Trixie’s beloved stuffed rabbit, into a washing machine.  She doesn’t have the words to tell him what’s wrong, so she expresses her strong feelings like any toddler would: with increasing intensity!  The pair arrive home and Mom notices the missing Knuffle Bunny, which sends Trixie and Dad back to the laundromat.  The ending is what you might expect, but with a fun twist!


The Elephant and Piggie Series

Piggie and Elephant Gerald are the best of friends.  In this 25-book series, the pair dialogue their way through exactly the types of scenarios children are faced with each day.  Here are just a few:


Are You Ready to Play Outside? by Mo Willems

Gerald and Piggie have big plans for a day of playing outside.  As Piggie imagines all they might do and they go to head out, raindrops begin to fall.  Luckily, elephants are good friends who have a knack for making rainy days fun.


Should I Share My Ice Cream? by Mo Willems

While he is alone one hot day, Gerald buys himself an ice cream cone.  Just as he is about to take his first bite, he wonders if he should find Piggie to share it with her.  This sets off a chain of thoughts in his mind, alternating between generous and self-serving.  As with many of Willems’ books, the ending is not what readers might expect!


Waiting is Not Easy! by Mo Willems

Piggie has a special surprise to share with Gerald.  Unfortunately, patience is not a characteristic Gerald has fully developed just yet.  Piggie is gentle and encouraging as the two wait for time to pass and the surprise to reveal itself.


Cat the Cat Series

These books are perfect for new readers or for babies and toddlers who love being read to.  Simple text, simple illustrations, and loveable characters grace the pages of these four books.  Here are a couple we enjoy:


Cat the Cat, Who Is That? by Mo Willems

In this introductory book we are introduced to Cat the cat and all her animal friends.  Their names are quite predictable as one might imagine, and young children love the patterned text.


Time to Sleep, Sheep the Sheep! by Mo Willems

With minimal text and adorable illustrations, Cat the cat and her friends get ready for bedtime.  They smile joyfully as Cat reminds them to get ready, and respond by brushing their teeth, taking a bath, gathering bedding, and so on.


Solo Books

Willems has lots of non-series books as well.  While, again, there are far too many to list here, check out these favorites!


Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed by Mo Willems

In Naked Mole Rat’s world, everyone is naked all the time.  Secretly, he adores wearing clothes of all kinds.  When the other mole rats discover this, the whole community is faced with change.


Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems

In this ridiculous twist on the classic Goldilocks tale, the dinosaurs are intentionally trying to lure a tasty child into their home.  Luckily, this (pluckier version of ) Goldilocks figures out their plan in the nick of time.


That Is NOT a Good Idea! by Mo Willems

A mischievous fox invites an innocent goose to dinner.  Written and illustrated in a style similar to an old silent film, our goose heroine proves she’s not nearly as naive as we feared.


Nanette’s Baguette by Mo Willems

If your child loves fresh bread, independence, or words that rhyme with baguette, this one is for them!  Nanette’s mother sends her off to the bakery for first time by herself to buy a baguette, but who among us can resist the delectable smell of a freshly baked loaf? (Certainly not Nanette!)


***Special insider’s secret: The Pigeon appears in every single one of Mo Willems’ books.  Sometimes you have to look very closely, but it can be quite a fun game for children!  Enjoy!

5 Simple Ways to Show Her You Care on Mother’s Day


Everyone loves to feel appreciated.  With Mother’s Day coming up next Sunday, it’s a great time to think of how you might show the moms in your life what they mean to you.  We offer five simple ideas to celebrate and care for the woman who cares for everyone.

1. Remember to have a card ready.

You could absolutely buy a Mother’s Day card; there are plenty of great ones out there.  Another option (that is free and will likely be treasured forever) is to have your children make a card.  Be sure to write the date inside!  Some quick ideas for children of all ages:

Infants - Paint those chubby little hands and/or feet to make a print on the front of the card.  On the inside you could write a few reasons why you think she’s great, or use one of these beautiful poems: 

“Home” by Carl Sandburg

Here is a thing my heart wishes the world had more of:
I heard it in the air of one night when I listened
To a mother singing softly to a child restless and angry in the darkness.

“Mother, A Cradle to Hold Me” by Maya Angelou

It is true
I was created in you.
It is also true
That you were created for me.
It owned your voice.
It was shaped and tuned to soothe me.
Your arms were molded
Into a cradle to hold me, to rock me.
The scent of your body was the air
Perfumed for me to breathe.

Full poem here: https://adoption-beyond.org/mother-a-cradle-to-hold-me-by-maya-angelou/

Toddlers - Let them draw a picture on the cover, then interview them!  Ask them fun questions and record their answers inside the card.  A toddler’s perspective of the world is sure to make their mother laugh (and perhaps melt her heart).  Some ideas:

  • What is your mom’s name?

  • What is your favorite thing about mom?

  • What is mom’s favorite thing to do?

  • What is mom’s favorite food?

  • How do you know mom loves you?

Preschoolers - Whether they like to draw or paint, let young kids decorate the card themselves.  On the inside, have them tell you three reasons they love their mom for you to write down.  If they have started learning to write their own name, have them sign the card.

Elementary-aged children and older children - Encourage your old kids to write a letter to their mom.  If they seem hesitant, it’s okay to brainstorm ideas with them.  Ask them to think about what’s special about their mom, what they love about her, or a time she did something really nice for them.  If they love art, they can find a special way to incorporate that, too.

2. Take your time and enjoy brunch.

You have two options here: go out to eat or make a meal at home.  Think about what she would love best!  If you choose the former, think ahead: many popular brunch spots require reservations on Mother’s Day.

If you’d like to tackle making brunch at home, you can make it special without it being complicated.  Some ideas:

  • Place fresh flowers and a couple candles on the table.

  • Make her a fun drink.  Think herbal tea, flavored coffee, or a mimosa!

  • Try a new recipe.  This one for crepes is sure to be a hit: https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/16383/basic-crepes/

  • Have the kids help!  They can assist you in cooking, setting the table, serving Mom, or even cleaning up afterward.

3. Get some fresh air together.

Hopefully the weather will cooperate and you can enjoy a gorgeous spring day together.  Consider a spot near your home that will be low-key and fun for everyone.  Would she enjoy a stroll in the park?  A short hike?  A visit to a nature preserve?

To make the experience extra-special, make sure to do all the planning and prep work.  It’s not easy getting young children out of the house!  Gather water bottles, diaper bags, and snacks.  Get the children’s shoes on, buckle them into their car seats, and do whatever else you can to give her a minute or two extra with that cup of coffee.  These gestures will not go unnoticed!

4. Pamper her.

We would like to re-emphasize that this does not need to be complicated.  Just like with brunch, you have two options: outsourcing or doing it yourself.  

Does the mom in your life enjoy spending time at spas, getting manicures, or treating herself to a massage?  If so feel free to book her an appointment or even give her a gift certificate to her favorite spot.  

Is she the type of mom who never seems to have time for herself?  If so, make sure to build some into the day.  Some simple ideas:

5. Give her something sweet.

One thing that is sure to bring a smile to her face?  A sweet treat!  For most moms, you can’t go wrong with chocolate, but think about her individual tastes.  Whether she’s into cheesecake, candy, croissants, or ice cream, make sure you have some on hand.  As with many of the other ideas we have mentioned, this special Mother’s Day dessert can be store-bought or homemade.  

Mothers give so much because they love their families.  No matter how you decide to celebrate, she is sure to appreciate the time, effort, and love you shower her with.  Enjoy!

Math on the Go!

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You already know that reading aloud to your child daily can have a huge impact on their literacy development.  Did you know that doing math together at home is also important?  By integrating math into your daily lives at home, you as parents are teaching your child not only that math really is applicable to our daily lives, but that you value it as an area of study.  Finding a variety of ways to work through problems together prevents children from developing the self-narrative of “I’m not good at math” before it ever starts.  

Looking for tips to get started?

In the Kitchen

While there are likely nights you need to whip up a quick dinner, get everyone fed and off to bed, it can be nice to find ways to invite your children to cook with you sometimes.  Doing so has a host of benefits, including the development of practical life skills, confidence building, and family bonding, but there are also plenty of opportunities to learn about and practice math skills.

Consider what it takes to make a meal.  From reading a recipe, to combining ingredients, thinking about cooking temperatures, and even how long to cook a meal, there are a wide variety of skills your child can experience first-hand: 

  • Reading written fractions in recipes

  • Comparing differences in volume while adding measured ingredients

  • Adding fractions or utilizing fraction equivalencies

  • Using multiplication or division when halving or doubling a recipe

  • Calculating elapsed time while waiting for a treat to bake

  • Understanding units of measurement concerning temperature

At the Store

Shopping is one of those frequent life necessities, and we often have our children in tow.  Turn this family chore into a fun learning experience by incorporating math.  Here are some ideas for a variety of ages:

  • Counting specific items

  • Identifying numbers on signs

  • Estimating costs of items

  • Rounding costs of items to the nearest dollar and adding mentally

  • Identifying coins and their values

  • Comparing price and quantity to determine product value

  • Weigh produce on the scale

  • Use addition or multiplication to determine cost when buying multiples on an item

  • Determine how much change will be received from the cashier

In the Car

Whether you’re making the quick drive to school in the morning or settling in for a lengthy family road trip, it’s possible to incorporate math skills along the journey.  The key is to make it fun and not work!

  • Notice numbers on signs.  Talk about place value.

  • Similar to the alphabet game, play the number game.  Look for numbers outside and call them out in order.  “I see a 1 on that sign!’  “I spotted a 2 on that license plate!”

  • Play a shape-finding game.

  • Clue kids into mileage information.  Have them figure out how far you’ve traveled or how much further you have to go.

  • Keep track of time.  Solve problems similar to the mileage ones.

  • Make your real-life word problems multi-step: ask your child how their answers might change if you need to drive a certain number of miles or minutes out of the way to make a stop.

  • Estimate fuel costs, both before you arrive at the pump, and guessing how much the tank will need to fill.

  • Skip count together in silly voices.  Count by 2s, 5s, 10s, and more!

The Backyard

Believe it or not, your own backyard is likely full of real-life math opportunities.  Whether you’re gardening, making repairs, or building something together, keep an eye out for things like:

  • Size comparisons: which tree is taller? Wider?

  • Notice the temperature.  If you’re really motivated, keep track over a week and make a graph.

  • Measure everything!  Younger children can stick to non-standard units.  “How many ‘mommy feet’ long do you think this piece of wood is?  Now let’s try your feet!”

  • Kids love to use adult tools, so show them the correct way to use a measuring tape.  Start with length, and explore perimeter and area with older children.

  • Kids always seem to be collecting small objects.  Use these rocks, acorns, or sticks to count, add, or subtract.

  • With older children, use seeds for math before planting.  Show them an array and how it relates to multiplication and division.

  • Estimation opportunities are everywhere.  How many leaves are on that branch?  How many insects might we find under this log?  How many dandelions are blooming right now

No matter where you are or what you’re doing, your children love just spending time with you.  Finding simple ways to incorporate mathematical thinking can be a fun way to squeeze a little bit of learning out of an already enjoyable experience

Remember to ask your child lots of questions, but don’t feel like you need to give them the answers right away.  When we discover something for ourselves, the information is so much more powerful.  Of course, if they seem confused or ask for help, it’s okay to model and teach!

Let us know what you learn together!

Chores: They’re Good for Your Kids!


Chores: the word has such a negative connotation.  But does it need to be that way?

Do you remember doing chores when you were growing up?  For some of us, we remember them as a negative consequence.  For others, we never had them and it took us a while to learn how to do them as adults.  Still others remember helping out around the house but not thinking it was a big deal.

It’s all in how we, as parents, frame it for children.

How we present the concepts of chores makes all the difference.  Having kids pitch in isn’t just helpful for us (because, let’s face it, it’s often more work for us on the front end), it’s really good for them, too!

What are the benefits?

There are so many important reasons to incorporate regular chores into your children’s routines at home.  Here are just a few:

Developing independence

As Montessorians, we see great value in teaching kids to do things for themselves.  It feels incredibly empowering to master a task and be able to complete it by oneself.  Young children are at the perfect age to begin this work, as they are constantly looking for ways to do things independently.  

Fostering a sense of belonging

By giving children ways to contribute to maintaining the home environment, you are effectively letting them know they are a valued, important member of the family.  Besides, working side by side to tidy up is bonus time spent together, and couldn’t we all use a little more of that?

Learning practical life skills

We all need to learn how to do our laundry, wash our dishes, and pick up after ourselves.  Just like children need guidance when learning how to read or add, they need the same with basic life skills.  When we get down to their level and show them how to do the job, we are setting them up for a future of success as adults.

Options for all ages!

Well, we can let the infants take a pass here.  Even young toddlers, however, are perfectly capable of learning some basic chores.  The following is a collection of suggestions.  It would likely be far too much to implement all at once, or even for one child to be wholly responsible for an entire list.  Think of it as potential inspiration, or guidelines to help you determine what your child is developmentally capable of.  

Toddlers (yes, toddlers!)

Even little ones have a lot to offer around the house.  Start small and offer child-sized tools.

  • On the floor beside where your child eats, use painter’s tape to create a small square.  Using a small dustpan and brush, show your child how to sweep the crumbs into the square, then into the dustpan.  It can be fun to keep the dustpan available on a nearby hook, beside a small container of colorful pom poms or the like.  Your toddler will love practicing!

  • Teach your child how to fold napkins.  Keep a small basket with napkins in it available for them to practice.

  • Let them help set the table.  Watch their tiny face light up at being given such an important task.  Resist the urge to straighten things out when they’re done!

  • Teach them to put their own toys away and be consistent about having them clean up as soon as they are finished playing.  They may need some help, but they are capable of putting toys back into a bin or on a shelf.


This is a great age for children to learn chores. They are able to do more than we often think they can, and they are so excited to help! 

  • Clear the table.  They will probably need to make multiple trips to avoid breaking dishes, but they will delight in collecting plates and cutlery to bring to the kitchen.

  • Teach them to wash the table.  First, show them how to carefully brush crumbs off into their hands (you can also buy a special crumb set here if it’s easier: https://www.forsmallhands.com/small-crumb-set ).  Next, show them how to wash the table with whatever method you prefer.  It can help to have a small bucket of soapy water with a sponge and dry cloth.  They will need lots of modeling (remember to emphasize wringing out that sponge!).

  • All that sweeping practice they had when they are toddlers?  It can continue now, and they can also learn to mop.  Remember that child sized tools make it easier for them to get the job done.

  • Kids this age can feed pets, although they may need you nearby.

  • Give preschoolers the task of choosing and laying out their own clothing.  In the beginning they will need guidance as to what is weather-appropriate.  Be prepared for some outfits you will perceive as wacky but take that moment to appreciate their blossoming independence and sense of personal style.

  • Show them how to care for plants.  Chances are, they’re already doing this in their classrooms at school to some extent.  Teach them how to water and talk about how we know when plants need water.

Young children

As the child gets older they are capable of so much more.  Children ages 5 through about 8 are very competent, though they may be a bit less enthusiastic than they once were.  Building chores into the family routine will make this easier for everyone.

  • Children at this age can fold and put away laundry.  Start small: a full load of laundry to put away by themselves the first time will only set them up for frustration.  Sit together and teach them how to fold various items.  Sort through clothes and let them choose a category the first few times.  For example, they may fold all the shirts while you work on the rest.  Slowly increase their responsibilities as they gain the skills necessary to complete the task.

  • Kids who are eating lunch at school can help pack it themselves.  Teach them how to make a sandwich, chop vegetables, and even how to select a balanced variety of foods.  Remember that choice and independence are very empowering.

  • Let them empty the dishwasher.  If they can’t reach a particular shelf, keep a step stool nearby.

  • Chores that are tedious for adults, like dusting or washing the baseboards, are great fun for kids.  If it gives them the sense that you trust them with an ‘adult’ task, they will likely be thrilled to give new tasks a try.

  • Depending on their size, let them vacuum rugs.  

Older children

Again, as certain children get older you may be met with initial resistance whenever introducing a new chore.  Try to keep it light and fun, and present it as a positive: as we get older we may have more responsibilities, but we gain new freedom and privileges.

  • Weeding the garden is a great task for older children, but they’ll likely enjoy it more if you’re weeding alongside them.

  • They are now old enough to do the laundry.  Start small and set the expectation that they do their own laundry.  They will need reminders, but having a system (a basket of their own and perhaps a sticky note with how-to reminders) will help get the job done.

  • Again, depending upon the child’s size, they are likely able to take out the trash and recyclables.  

  • You may consider increasing their responsibilities in regards to pet care.  They may be able to walk the dog, clean dirty cages, and do some basic grooming.

  • If they haven’t already learned, now is a great time to teach them how to make their own bed.  This includes learning how to change the sheets.

  • If your child has been attending a Montessori school, they’ve been learning how to prepare their own food since they were 3 years old.  Take advantage of that knowledge base and let them make lunch for the family once in a while.  They may even want to try more cooking or baking on their own (but with supervision).


Teenagers are able to do most, if not all, of the chores we do as adults.  Remember, we are not suggesting they do all of these chores all the time, but reinforcing the idea that they are capable of any of them will help set them up for success.  Sitting down together and agreeing on a schedule or rotation might be a good starting point.  Here are just a few ideas:

  • Let them mow the lawn or rake the leaves.

  • Have them wash the dishes.

  • Give them a chance to watch younger siblings while you run errands or go to an appointment.

  • Teenagers can do some more thorough cleaning, like wiping down counters or washing the bathroom.

  • Let them cook dinner.  Instead of viewing this as a chore, they may enjoy the opportunity to choose the recipe and help shop for the ingredients themselves.

When giving a child of any age chores to do, the key is to find balance.  Chores are so important for their development, but so are things like play, reading, time together as a family, and time with friends.  Be aware that children can often do more than we think they can, but also be aware of the big picture that is their life.  

Looking for more ways to cultivate independence?  Montessori may be the answer.  Call us today to learn more.