Practical Life :: Using Real Tools

If you view childhood through the works Dr. Montessori, our goal as parents and teachers are to assist our children to learn how to care for themselves. This is the work of the child. Thus, children as young as 18-months are encouraged to use “real” tools to accomplish their tasks. This can be a scary prospect for parents of young children (and for the record, I didn’t let mine touch a sharp knife until almost 3).

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My young four-year-old successfully opening a package

Obviously, I am not advocating that you allow your children to run around with scissors, but allowing them work with “real” tools is very important work. It provides them with dignity. Even our youngest children possess a desire to belong and have pride within their work. A child inherently knows when you are not treating them as equals — when you pass off the “play” knife while you cook dinner. While it is not always an option for my children to assist when they want to, I make sure to be as open to the possibility as I can. Often, cries of “I want to help,” are followed by suggestions of assisting with stirring, obtaining ingredients or cutting bananas with a butter knife (for the very youngest among us).

**Safety Disclaimer ** You know your child. Do not assume that other children are as advanced or capable as your own child. Always supervise your child – especially when they are working with sharp tools and new materials.

My seven-year-old is now so proficient at cutting up fresh broccoli that he takes the leftover stalks and makes carvings — using a very sharp paring knife. (I did some extra observing with that one).

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Using a hand saw – October 2012

These pictures were from last Halloween. The boys carved pumpkins and were generally messy – outside – with Dad supervising. If you look closely, you can see that my son’s thumb is colored black. That’s not nail polish…he banged his thumb with a hammer a week earlier while working on a project of his own making. He hurt himself – yes – but he hasn’t done it since and it hasn’t stopped him from continuing to create and use his hammer. You have to observe your child to know when they are ready for new tools, but please do give them a chance. Each child will be different. That’s okay.

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The three-year-old used a spoon.

“Who does not know that to teach a child to feed himself, to wash and dress himself, is a much more tedious and difficult work, calling for infinitely greater patience, than feeding, washing, and dressing the child one’s self? But the former is the work of an educator, the latter is the easy and inferior work of a servant.”

-Maria Montessori in The Montessori Method