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January 27, 2021

Practical Life - Setting the Table

For so long practical life work with young babies and toddlers is individual. It's taking care of their own body. It's feeding themselves. They may help clean up around the house, but the expectation that it's super clean after has to stay pretty minimal. Basically, at first practical life isn't for the benefit of the family but the benefit of the child. Even so, it's super super important! 

But, then, the preschool years hit and suddenly your little child is so much more capable! So happy to contribute to the family as a whole and so proud to be able to do it just so. That's exactly the phase that Gus is at right now. He is just becoming exceedingly capable at many practical life tasks and truly a help to the family. 

Setting the table is just one example of how he has been meaningfully contributing to our family through practical life lately. Step by step he is able to place everything around the table to prepare for a meal. This work hasn't happened magically, however. It has been a process over time of involving Gus in our daily meals, in doing practical life work, and in setting the table. Here are a few tips to make table setting a reality: 
  • Keep everything your child needs down low. Placemats, utensils, cups, and plates are all kept at a level where the children can reach them. For most of our stuff, it's not even kept anywhere fancy, just in a low cabinet in our kitchen.
  • Start slowly. Maybe one day you invite your child to put out placemats, or cups, or just the forks. Remember it doesn't have to be an all or nothing process. Even from a younger age you can invite to help as much as they are able. It is those routines that will eventually lead to independence. 
  • Present it like any other work. If you do have an older child that is capable of setting the entire table from the start - present it! Don't assume they know how, but slowly show them. Then, give them a turn to try. 
  • Use a utensil tray. Using a tray has been so helpful in being able to organize and place utensils around the table - especially with so many people in our family. Without it, Gus would have to make so many trips back to the kitchen that it's likely he would get distracted. The tray keeps his work in front of him. If you don't have a utensil tray, and tray that can help them gather and bring things to the table will be helpful. 
  • Keep expectations in check. Remember for small children process is more important than product. They may stop half way through, they may decline an invitation to participate, they may explore with setting the table differently, or they may make mistakes. These are all normal parts of any practical life work. Keep your cool and guide in those moments, decide if they need a push to finish or if it's best to just take over and try another time.

This is just one example of how to give your preschooler an opportunity to participate in meaningful practical life at home. But, there are so many other ways. If you want to start more of this at home, think about how to make it relevant to your child, to your family and how to create a space to make it a reality! 

What sorts of practical life tasks does your 4-year-old like to do?

Easy tips for getting your preschooler to set the table. This fun Montessori activity can engage preschoolers in meaningful chores around the house.


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