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Children Love to Work and Play

By Tim Seldin - President, The Montessori Foundation; Chair, The International Montessori Council

Step by step
Many of the things that we do every day involve several different skills, each of which we learned along the way. By breaking tasks down into small steps, you can help your child to master each level of difficulty, one at a time.

Take this approach when you want to teach your child how to sort clean socks in the laundry or put flowers in a vase. Think about each step and how you can make it simple to follow. Explain each step with just a few words as you demonstrate it, so your child concentrates on what you are doing rather than what you are saying. Then let your child practice until she is competent at each stage.

Learning to ride a bicycle is a good analogy. When children are ready, parents often give them a tricycle, and let them learn how to mount and dismount, how to steer, and how to work the pedals. As safe as tricycles are, they usually do not have brakes, and we are careful where we let our children ride them. Eventually the time comes when children ask for a "big kid's bike." Parents choose a bike that is the right size for their child, and it comes equipped with training wheels. Those extra wheels help keep this much larger bike upright, and allow your child to get used to the pedals, steering, and brakes. Slowly, they become more and more confident until they ask us to remove the training wheels. Before you know it, they are zipping around on their bikes, and you constantly have to remind them to wear their safety helmets!

Step by step, this process of mastering an everyday skill is made easier by careful planning, and patient instruction and support from parents. Lessons such as these continue as your child grows up, until they are grown. The process of teaching your teenager to drive is a good example of an everyday life skill your child learns when she is almost grown. Leaning how to deal with conflicts with friends, manage savings, and plan a small party, are other examples.

Perhaps one of the most difficult things to do as a parent, once we have taught our children new skills, is to then allow them to continue to practice these tasks as part of their everyday life without interfering. We would never suggest that a child who has learned to ride a two-wheeler bike goes back to training wheels, but how often do we continue to bundle a child into her coat or shoes long after she is capable of put them on without our help?

A sense of order
A key element in teaching your children everyday life skills is keeping everything tidy. In their crucial sensitive period for order, their world needs to be well organized. If they are taught where things belong, and how to return them correctly when they are finished using them, they internalize this sense of order, and carry it with them for the rest of their lives.

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