Originally Posted January 2015
Whenever Oscar starts doing something that makes me feel a little frenzied (like messing in the dishwasher while I’m loading it), I have started trying to identify what’s so interesting to him about the situation. I’ve found that if I make him a “work” or learning activity to correspond to that interest, not only is he less likely to do the thing that makes me nuts, but he’s also learning something practical! When I was a teacher, we called these “teachable” moments. Now that I know more about learning, I prefer to think of them as learnable moments, or following the child.
Oscar loves water. He loves baths, washing his hands, and most of all pouring, dripping, or squirting water on everything in sight. It’s cute until it’s not. I can only take soggy snacks and lunches so many days until I want to scream. So what did I do? Well, first I learned to take away the water as soon as it starts, then I made him some activities so that he could play with water and also develop his motor skills. Here are a couple of the water works we’ve explored together so far. Believe it or not, he likes cleaning it up, too!
What did I do when he took the package of animal stickers his daddy gave him and stuck them all over his puzzle animals (image on the left). I decided to start with an animal matching activity and go from there since I had doubles of these three beauties.
When he became obsessed with sticking stick-like objects into crevices (thank goodness for outlet covers!)?
When his Aunt Jessi asked what she could get or make him for Christmas, I immediately thought of how he’s always sneaking off with our keys to try to fit into keyholes. This was the result (and yes, he has an awesome Aunt Jessi!):
When he started stealing my broom to spread the nice neat piles I made all over the kitchen, what did I do (I mean besides learn not to leave him alone with dirt piles)? I got him a hand sweeper so that he could practice sweeping piles into the bin and pouring them out into the trash can. For his birthday he is getting a broom. Yes, a broom, and I know he will be very excited.
So back to my example of the dishwasher. When it is open Oscar plays with the silverware, and every time we have to stop him. So that’s where we’ll start. He can learn to sort the silverware out of the caddy into the tray. We’ll start with just his silverware into his tray and who knows, maybe by the time he’s 4 I won’t have to unload the dishwasher anymore, right (yeah, right)?
Lots of the ideas I have for activities come from Montessori philosophy as well as other early childhood blogs and books. I am not a trained Montessori guide, but I do have a deep appreciation for Montessori Philosophy.
On a last note, following your child doesn’t mean letting them do things that make you crazy (setting clear, calm boundaries is as essential as ever), but it does mean recognizing that getting into things is often a sign they’re ready to learn!
Note: At the time I first wrote this I wasn’t a trained Montessori guide, but now I am. What I’ve learned is that with children younger than three (or so), involving them as much as possible in our day to day lives of cleaning and cooking, etc. is the most developmentally appropriate way to teach tasks like pouring and cutting. Kids don’t have that same drive for order and perfection of a skill before then enter what Montessorians call the Conscious Absorbent Mind at around three years old. Do I think these tasks hurt my kid, definitely not. But they might have been frustrating in ways I didn’t understand at the time.