by Laura Berthiaume September 29, 2021 4 min read
A popular motto used by Montessori teachers is “help me to help myself”.
What does this mean?
We observe for signs of frustration or wait for the children to ask for help.
When it comes to dressing specifically, this means allowing them the time and space to remove and put on articles of clothing, only assisting when needed.
We also ensure the environment sets them up for success - the materials are accessible and age appropriate:
Once we've prepared the environment, here's 5 general guidelines we give to parents when teaching dressing:
1. Start with undressing - It’s easier to take things off than it is to put things on.
To boost confidence and initially engage young children in the dressing process, show them how to remove their socks, pants, or underwear.
Once they've mastered that, you can move onto shirts.
Summer is also the easiest time to teach dressing and undressing since the clothing tends to be easier to remove and put on.
Here's a summary of how to teach clothing removal:
2. Use slow deliberate movements. Show your child how to remove or put on a piece of clothing using slow, precise hand movements. It can help to over exaggerate them.
There's a Montessori acronym to keep in mind:
This means that you demonstrate with slow hands and use minimal or no words.
This allows your toddler to focus on your movements and not your mouth or having to listen.
3. Leave extra time. Imagine learning a new skill at work and someone's yelling over your shoulder, "Hey, hurry up, we've gotta get going" the whole time.
Sounds pretty stressful, right?
When working on dressing or any new skill, allow 3-5x as long so you don't have to rush or feel stressed about being late.
4. “Show me the hard part” Break dressing down into steps and observe exactly where your child is struggling. If it's the same step every time, think about how you can help with or make that part easier.
For instance, your child may be able to get their toes into their shoes independently but struggle to get their heel into the shoe. Rather than putting on their shoes for them, allow them to put their toes in independently and then help wiggle their heel in or stand up and push their foot in.
Sidenote: Putting shoes on can be really tricky. It’s helpful to the child if the shoe can be opened wide. Velcro shoes are excellent for fine motor development.
5. Teach closures last. Once your child has mastered dressing, teach zippers, followed by buttons. Children need more precise fine motor skills and a strong pincer grasp to master these skills so it's best to wait until you think they are ready. Don't rush it and give them lots of time to practice.
Some educators call this scaffolding skills. It's a fancy term to mean you build new skills on previous skills.
Undressing and dressing is not going to happen overnight. It's easiest to teach one step at a time, building on the previous.
We teach dressing and undressing not just to make our jobs easier, but mainly because children feel a sense of accomplishment from completing these skills independently and this boosts their overall confidence.
Lastly, it's important to focus on the positives. They may put their clothes on backwards or inside out, but focus on all the progress they've made!
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