Teaching new skills
Here is a guide to encouraging your child to try new skills, and master them.

Small children want to be part of your world. For them, work is every bit as much fun as play if they are given the chance to do it.

The best way to encourage your child to try new skills is to demonstrate precisely and slowly in simple ways that he can understand. Then give him time to practice, and to be allowed to make his own mistakes and correct them.

Try looking at the world from your child’s perspective. By giving him clear boundaries and careful guidelines, you can allow him to learn how to do things for himself and give him the self-respect and confidence that come with independence.

A matter of size

The first step is to seek out tools and utensils that are the right size for your child. Most of the tasks young children can do are much easier if they have equipment made in a size that is right for their age.

Most parents can find child-sized toothbrushes, but there are also child-sized cups, plates, forks, spoons, watering cans, brooms and brushes, and even tubes of toothpaste.

Buy child-sized cutlery; make outlines of each piece on an A4 sheet to show your child how to set the table and where to place her plate and cup.

The real thing

Children can easily stir things that are cool, wash vegetables, or learn how to set the table. Children do not always want to do what we are doing, and I am not suggesting that you should make a young child wash the dishes when she really wants to play.

But when children ask or show that they want to help, be ready to show them how.

And, if you’ve taken the time to organize your kitchen to provide a small worktable and some child-sized basic tools, they are more likely to ask, help out, and come back again and again.

The step-by-step method

Many of the things that we do every day involve several different skills, each of which we learned along the way. By breaking tasks down into small steps, you can help your child to master each level of difficulty, one at a time.

Take this approach when you want to teach your child how to sort clean socks in the laundry or put flowers in a vase.

Successful step-by-step

  1. Think about each step and how you can make it simple to follow.
  2. Explain each step with just a few words as you demonstrate it, so your child concentrates on what you are doing rather than what you are saying.
  3. Then let your child practice until she is competent at each stage.

It's like riding a bike

Learning to ride a bicycle is a good analogy. When children are ready, parents often give them a tricycle, and let them learn how to mount and dismount, how to steer, and how to work the pedals.

As safe as tricycles are, they usually do not have brakes, and we are careful where we let our children ride them. Eventually the time comes when children ask for a "big kid’s bike".

Parents choose a bike that is the right size for their child, and it comes equipped with training wheels. Those extra wheels help keep this much larger bike upright, and allow your child to get used to the pedals, steering, and brakes.

Slowly, they become more and more confident until they ask us to remove the training wheels. Before you know it, they are zipping around on their bikes, and you constantly have to remind them to wear their safety helmets!

Step by step, this process of mastering an everyday skill is made easier by careful planning, and patient instruction and support from parents. Lessons such as these continue as your child grows up, until they are grown.

The process of teaching your teenager to drive is a good example of an everyday life skill your child learns when she is almost grown. Learning how to deal with conflicts with friends, manage savings, and plan a small party, are other examples.

Tim Seldin is the President of The Montessori Foundation and Chair of The International Montessori Council.

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