Washing a Table, 3YO style

Have you ever noticed that young children absolutely love imitating what they see “their” adults do?  That is the reason that toy companies make, and parents purchase, so many toy versions of household items:  toy vacuums, toy food to cut and prepare, toy tea sets, etc.  Many adults don’t take time to think about it, but children frequently prefer doing the REAL task rather than just pretending.  My children regularly ask to handwash dishes.  I leave out materials for washing windows and for dusting, which are regularly in use.  They seem to feel honored when I let them put dishes in the dishwasher, or empty the dishwasher.  And it’s not just my kids – young children love doing the things they see their parents doing.  I’m sure most of you who are parents have some similar experiences with your children.  (To be clear, this only applies to young children.  Once they’re over it, they’re over it!  Take advantage while they’re young!)

That’s why I gave Mr. BANG (who only has 9 days left of being a two-year-old) a lesson on how to wash a table.  It’s a great lesson because it allows him to be a productive member of the family, as he wants to be, it increases his attention to detail, and it also helps him develop the discipline of carrying out the full cycle of an extended activity.

This is an “official” Montessori lesson, geared toward ages 3-4.5, and I presented it as I learned in my Montessori training.  I initially went through the whole lesson myself, while he sat in a chair next to me, studying the whole process.  (In typical Montessori fashion, pretty much all lessons are presented – with few or no words – first, then the child gets a turn.  My children are now used to that and have developed the self-control to sit and watch.)

Before the “official” Montessori presentation began, I had Ethan clean the crumbs, including cereal pieces, off the table with the crumb brush.  Then the presentation began with carrying the materials from the shelf over to the floor by the table.  There are a lot of materials for this work, so I demonstrated making three trips to carry it all.  I spread out the towel, then set each item on it in a particular order, naming each item as I did so.

I went through the whole presentation except the very last step – putting the materials back on the shelf.  Therefore, Mr. BANG started at the point of setting out the materials on the towel.  I will pick up from here sharing his experience.  As this is a long, complicated work, I did stay with him and give him verbal reminders along the way.

Mr. BANG put on his apron (with some motherly assistance) and moved the chairs away from the table.  I was pleased to see that he did it the way I taught him instead of just dragging them along!

He took the pitcher to the sink to fill it 3/4 full with water.  He did well getting the pitcher up the little steps to the sink and filling it up (he even copied my little finger gestures about where to fill it to), but needed some help getting down with the pitcher.  I had expected that, and was happy to assist.

Back at the table, he poured most of the water into the bin, leaving a little for the clean-up part at the end of the process.

He dipped the sponge into the water, squeezed the water out with both hands, gave it a gentle shake, and started wiping the table to get it wet.  I had demonstrated wiping with an up and down motion, from left to right, but he just moved the sponge haphazardly.  He did re-wet the sponge as needed.

He returned the sponge to its dish and picked up the scrub brush and soap.  He dipped both into the water, then rubbed the soap against the brush.  He dipped the soap into the water again, gave a gentle shake, then returned it to its dish.  I had demonstrated scrubbing using large circular motions on most of the table, alternating with smaller, gentler circles along the edge.  He imitated that fairly well.


After covering the table with bubbles, he rinsed the scrub brush thoroughly, gave it a little shake, and returned it to the towel.  He picked up the sponge, wet it, and started wiping off the soap from the table.  Again, I had demonstrated the left to right, top to bottom motion, but he just wiped wherever.  I did have to remind him frequently to rinse the soap off his sponge.

When all the bubbles were gone and he had rinsed the sponge and returned it to its dish, he picked up the drying cloth.  He wiped it around the table fairly well and got a significant portion of the table dry.  All that was left were some wet streaks – no standing water.  Anything left was dry in less than a minute.

Now, the table was remarkably clean, and it was time for the clean-up.  He had done what he considered the interesting part and casually let me know he was done.  I smiled and reminded him that he needed to clean it up and get it ready for next time.  He immediately reengaged without any complaining.

He poured the soapy water from the bin into the bucket.  It was pretty heavy, so I did step in and help with that.  He then poured the remaining water from the pitcher into the basin and cleaned out any remaining soap.  He poured that water into the bucket as well.

The next step was to dry each item with the cloth.  He started with the basin, then did the sponge dish, scrub brush (the handle part), soap dish (he poured the water into the bucket first), and the outside of the pitcher.

I helped him carry the bucket into the bathroom to pour out the water.  I had shown him how to pour it into the toilet, but he wanted to pour it into the sink, so I helped him with that.


He dried the bucket inside and out.  When all drying was done, he took the cloth, now wet, to our towel basket in the laundry room.  He got a new dry cloth from the shelf and placed it, along with the other small materials, into the basin.

He gathered up all the materials as they had been (he desperately wanted to fold the towel by himself, but I promised to give him a folding lesson soon and had him help me match up corners this time).  He then made his three trips and got all the materials back on the shelf, ready for the next time.

His final step was to put the chairs back in place.

That night during dinner, he excitedly told The Brain all the steps he had gone through, with the words just pouring out of his mouth.  He never actually told Daddy that he had cleaned the table, just listed all the steps!  As he spoke, his face was filled with pride at the big task he had accomplished.

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