Hand washing is an exercise in practical life that sparks the interest in almost every child. Among many things, this work requires concentration, carefully followed sequence of steps, precise movements, and control of error. For a young toddler, carrying a nearly-full pitcher of water is a daunting task. It requires all of their attention and many careful foot steps.
An apron, washcloth, large bowl, bar of soap/dish, pitcher, and water bucket should suffice for this work. It’s also a good idea to place a low-setting mirror at the child’s eye level so they can see the progress of their work, and for self-grooming purposes.
The child begins by gathering the pitcher and taking it to the sink to be filled with water. With much precision, he carries it back to the hand washing table, half full, and pours it into the bowl. He fully immerses his hands in the water, turning them over and over until they are completely wet. Then, he takes the hand soap and rubs it into his hands, forming bubbles. As you can imagine, this part of the exercise may take several minutes, as the child attempts to clean every finger to the best of their ability (not to mention the lathering and rinsing of soap is an extremely relaxing and tranquil activity). Once his hands are thoroughly clean, he wipes them on the cloth, and pours the remaining water into the bucket. The bucket is taken to a nearby sink, and emptied of its contents. He then assesses the area and cleans it of any spills.
You can see our friend’s obvious excitement as he completes each task. He is truly happy, and enjoys what he is doing.
For adults, hand washing takes only a few minutes, but for a small child, it can take anywhere from 10 – 45 minutes, if done correctly. They learn control of error as they spill water, and adopt each new movement in order to successfully carry out the work. Through this the child is able to see dirty hands become clean.
Never hesitate to add practical life water works into your classroom environment simply because it requires too much clean up. Yes, it can be messy at times, but well worth it. A prepared Montessori environment should include areas for these practical life works.
For our fellow Montessori educators, a helpful link with exact verbalizations and steps can be found at http://www.infomontessori.com/practical-life/care-of-the-person-washing-hands.htm. To order your own Montessori hand washing materials, I would also recommend visiting http://www.montessoriservices.com/practical-life/washing-cleaning/hand-washing.
Happy Hand Washing!