In Montessori, the Sensitive Period for Order generally starts at about 1 year and lasts until age 4. During this time, your child will likely show an inclination towards activities like arranging blocks, making piles of sand, and putting objects into containers. Order also refers to boundaries; toddlers crave routines and structure as they begin to make sense of the world and what role they play in it.
Surprising though it may sound, children as young as 18 months—perhaps even younger, depending on the child—can start taking on regular household responsibilities. The kinds of household tasks your child can do successfully at this stage are simple and straightforward, like wiping up spills or setting the table, and will require modeling and patience from you.
It may be awhile before your child is able to consistently contribute to the housework, but teaching them now can help set the expectation that everyone in the family does their part.
5 household contributions that are just right for your toddler
Setting the table
As soon as your child can walk and reach the dinner table, they can start trying some basic table-setting tasks. For example, you can start by putting them in charge of napkins. Make sure they have easy access to the napkins, and consider keeping exactly as many as you’ll need for one meal in the container or drawer.
When you’re getting ready for dinner, tell your child “okay, time to set the table! Can you get napkins for the family?” At first, they may just put the napkins in a pile on the table. Later, you can show them where to place the napkins on a placemat with a guide, and as they grow, they can start counting to make sure they have everyone covered.
Toddlers love wiping up (small) spills. At around 18 months, your child can already start pouring their own beverages, though there will be a lot of missed cups 🙃 Provide your toddler with a small washcloth and show them how to slowly wipe down the liquid. They can also be in charge of wiping up little spills in other places, including the bathroom sink and around the bathtub or shower.
Toddlers also love sweeping, and if you give them a small hand-held broom and dustpan, they can join you when it’s time to clean up. Don’t expect a meticulous cleanup job, but you can show them the basics: make a little pile, then scoop it up and throw it in the trash. If you frame sweeping as an expectation, you may have an easier time turning it into a routine.
Flicking a light switch on and off is enticing to your toddler. Consider giving them access to a light switch in the bathroom if they are potty training. A small stool can help them reach, and a short mantra can help them remember: “I turn the light on when I come in, and I turn it off when I leave.”
Putting things away
Carrying and transporting are already favorite toddler pastimes. By 24 months, many toddlers have the motor coordination (as well as the interest) to put items where they belong. To set your toddler up for success, keep a designated place for them to return certain items—a basket for blocks, another for stuffed animals, and a rack for books. If you can, have each container hold one type of item only, and make it large enough so it’s not overflowing when your child has filled it up.
Helping with laundry
Laundry is an ideal time to enlist your toddler’s help, whether to open and close doors or pour liquid detergent into the right spot. Your child can even learn simple folding, starting at around 2 ½, with washcloths, napkins, and other small squares and rectangles. Montessori folding cloths have dotted lines that show where the folds go, or you can make your own with a dry-erase marker.
Read this post for more ideas on getting your toddler involved with laundry.
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