There are certain things that adults consider to be tedious chores that have to be completed each day. One of these in our house is unloading the dishwasher. I do it every day after breakfast. Lately, L has been helping. I didn’t force her to do this, or even suggest it. She just sees herself as a part of the household and wants to be taking part in the care of our environment. I’m looking forward to the day when L can unload the whole dishwasher by herself. For now, we keep it to allowing L to do the things she is able to do by herself — a core part of the Montessori philosophy.
L is currently 17 months old. At this age, unfortunately for me, she is unable to unload the whole dishwasher. But don’t underestimate the young toddler’s abilities. She is perfectly capable of many parts of the process, and as she grows older we can add tasks.
I remove all the sharp knives as soon as I open the dishwasher, as that is not something that L will be able to help with for a few more years. As soon as she hears the dishwasher opening, L comes running. She hands me each piece of silverware to put in the drawer. One time, I took out the silverware organizer from the drawer to see if she would put them in the right places. L’s not ready for that yet. She just saw it as an opportunity to empty all the utensils from the organizer. We’ll try again when she’s closer to two — it will be a great sorting work! L also puts all of her plates on top of the cupboard where they belong and closes the dishwasher when we are finished. I can see the look of satisfaction in her eyes when we are done — she has completed a necessary task with a purpose, and it feels good!
We are also working on bringing her used dishes to the kitchen after meals. L now climbs into and out of her chair by herself (we built a new one without the infant attachment, and are saving the first chair for Baby #2).* When her plate is mostly or completely empty, I ask her to carry it to the kitchen. She dumps the remaining food into the trash can and gives me the plate to rinse. We’re working on then putting it in the dishwasher — she currently sees the dishwasher as something that is UNloaded rather than loaded, so she usually tries to take the plate back to where it belongs. It will click with time. If her plate has too much food left on it for her to carry without making a huge mess, I have her carry her cup over to the sink instead.
*A note on the chair: We knew that L was ready for her new chair without restraints because she kept trying to climb out of the old one. We put it together a few days ago, and she immediately knew how to get in and out by herself. I wrote about this chair in my post about Montessori in the dining room — expensive, but it grows with the child and we will use it for many years. L now has the freedom to get into and out of her chair by herself — no more standing at the base and whining for us to put her in it. We have not had any problems with her trying to get down before the meal is over — we have been very careful to make sure that the adults to do not leave the table in the middle of a meal, so we are modeling the behavior we would like to see from her.