Practical Life Skills – Toddler Self-Care

Self-care is a very important part of the Montessori philosophy.  Young children enjoy doing things for themselves, so being able to take care of their own bodies gives them a sense of purpose and satisfaction.  There are many things that even very young toddlers can do for themselves — but they won’t know that they can unless you let them try.

I’m not going to lie, it is very difficult to stand by and let your child take the necessary time to complete some self-care tasks by themselves.  It would be so much faster (and neater!) to just do it for them!  But then, what would they learn?  Besides the fact that allowing your child to do things for herself builds her independence and self-confidence, many tasks help develop gross and fine motor skills, hand-eye/foot coordination, focus, and concentration.
Many of the self-care skills L takes part in occur in her bathroom.  When she first wakes up in the morning, L brushes her teeth.  As I shared in the post about the Montessori toddler bathroom, she has a step stool that is the perfect height for her so she can reach the sink and see in the mirror.  She brushes her teeth and then climbs down to get changed.  I set out her clothes for the next day each night, so L gets her clothes from their hooks, chooses some socks from the basket, and brings it all to the bathroom.  We take off her clothes together, and then L begins putting her new clothes on — by herself.  She sits down on the floor so she doesn’t have to try to balance while putting pants on.  L has become an expert at putting on shorts.  She sticks one leg in, then the other, before standing and pulling them up over her bottom.  She doesn’t need any help with shorts, although sometimes she ends up wearing her shorts backwards.  Pants are a little trickier, as she has to push her foot all the way out the bottom before she can stand up.  She usually asks for help with this part, so I help “find your foot” before she stands to pull up her pants.  L is pretty good at putting her shirt over her head, and then I help hold her sleeves out so she can get each arm in.  When she’s all dressed, L takes her pajamas and puts them in the hamper before we go downstairs for breakfast.
L also has a grooming station set up in her bedroom, as seen in my post about the Montessori toddler bedroom.  There is a mirror hung at her height, so she can see herself as she wipes off her face or combs her hair.
L is one and half years old, and she hasn’t yet mastered many of these self-care skills — but she gets better every time we let her.  If you want your child to be able to do things for herself, you need to make sure you are setting her up for sucess.  No toddler is able to put on tight jeans with a zipper and button.  No toddler is able to put on overalls by herself.  No toddler is able to button a onesie.  Give your child clothes that are easy to put on — shirts instead of onesies, sweatpants or pants with elastic bands instead of buttons and zippers.  Make sure your child can reach the things she needs to be able to do things for herself — L gets frustrated when she has to keep asking for help!
As the weather is getting colder now, the next step in our house is to show L how to put on her own jacket and shoes.  I’m a fan of the flip jacket method — where you lay the jacket on the floor upside down, the child puts her arms in, and then flips it over her head.  I’ll let you know when we’ve started working on that one and how it’s going.  I also bought some shoes in the next size up (children’s feet grow so quickly!) that have one velcro strap and no laces, so when she reaches that size I’ll begin encouraging her to put them on by herself.
Good luck and have patience!