Montessori at Home: Dishwashing

Welcome back!  If you’ve been reading here lately, you know that we’re in the midst of a series of posts about activities from the school environment that are well suited to the home environment.  This week we’ll take a look at the exciting activity of dishwashing!  Dishwashing is a way for a child to gain a practical skill and offer a meaningful contribution to the mealtime clean-up routines at home, and dishwashing can also be a deeply satisfying experience for the child who is craving a water activity.  The adult needs to provide a few items and be ok with potential broken glass (see discussion at end of post) and water spillage–have a few towels available!

Necessary items:  Two bins or a double compartment sink.  One side for soapy water, the other for rinse water.  A drying rack.  Dish soap.  A sponge.  A sturdy, slip resistant place for the child to stand.  Towels.  Optional: water resistant apron.  And dirty dishes!

The adult can show the sequence of moving a dirty dish into the soapy water, how to use the sponge to clean the dish, then moving the dish into the rinse water, and lastly, placing it on the drying rack.

Dishwashing can be modified in numerous ways, depending on the ability and interest of the child, so I’ll give some examples:

  • Child only washes and leaves the dishes in the rinse water for the adult.
  • Two children work together.  Maybe one child washes and the other child rinses and stacks on the drying rack.
  • Child only washes a smaller selection of dirty dishware, for example:  only plates or cups or bowls or spoons.

Soapy dishes are slippery, so be aware that dishes can break if dropped.  Using plastic bins or a rubber mat at the bottom of a sink can help, but do not totally alleviate this potential danger.  For safety, young children should always ask an adult to lead the clean-up of broken glass/ceramic/etc.  While a broken dish can be upsetting to a child, it’s helpful to keep in mind that a broken dish is providing feedback for the child who is perfecting his/her movements… that soapy dishes are slippery, glass is fragile, and to adjust how he/she is handling the dishes.  Food for thought:  while it may be tempting to only give young children plasticware to wash because it is unlikely to break, the flipside of this choice is that plasticware does not provide the same feedback for rough handling.

Interested in learning more about why Montessori teachers use glassware and encourage its use at home, too?  Here’s a link to a quick read by Montessori educator Kelly Griffith Mannion on the Montessori Services’ website.

Thanks for reading!  Be well!