Assembling a Montessori Cleaning Kit

Wednesday January 25, 2017

“Practical life” activities are very important within the Montessori at Home sphere. And for good reason — kids really love helping out.

Montessori is often compressed down to kids working on specially designed trays of work with specific order. But, a large part of Montessori is also teaching and showing kids how to be part of a family, classroom, and community. I feel like the practical life activities are where these lessons really shine.

Since Bean could walk, we’ve provided her with cleaning tools and have asked her to clean up after herself when she makes a mess. Of course, when she was 1, the “cleaning up after herself” bit wasn’t done to any sort of proper standard, and immensely frustrating to watch at times because it seemed the exact OPPOSITE of cleaning was happening, and we’d quickly clean up for real once she left the room, but it taught her that she was responsible for her own messes.

Now that she’s nearly 4, she thinks nothing of asking for a paper towel if she spilled milk, or grabbing her dustpan if she got carried away with glitter or sand. And 3 years later, she can actually clean it up.

The other day, I was cooking on the stove while she milled around the kitchen, so I asked her to clean off the kitchen table. I watched over my shoulder as she carried the plant vase and candle holder to a countertop, and took up the placemats. She got out her table cleaning basket and got to work. When all was done, she put everything back where it belonged on the table.

I love love love this. It is moments like these when I’m grateful we came across Montessori when Bean was still so little. I love that she understands that she is a member of our household, and part of being a member of a household is maintaining it. I love that she feels responsible when she spills or makes a mess.

I love that I DON’T HAVE TO CLEAN UP HER MESSES. There is a lot of satisfaction when you see your kid obliterate the kitchen and then have that aha moment of “oh wait, I don’t have to clean this up! It’s her responsibility!” And then I can sit down while she sweeps. (This either makes me the best or worst stay-at-home mom.)

More often, though, she cleans alongside me.The best way for them to learn how to do this is to watch and emulate you. If she sees me pull out a broom, she’ll grab hers. If I’m cleaning in the bathroom, she’ll grab her spray bottle and get to work too.  Now, this could be annoying (like, super annoying) if you’re in a rush or if their attempts to clean are resulting in even more mess aka more work for you, but they will eventually figure it out and end up being truly helpful around the house.

There are also the benefits of teaching her concentration and improving her dexterity and coordination, fomenting independence and order. So, yes, getting your kid a broom will result in a multitude of tangible benefits, for your child, you, and your family.

So, let’s talk about putting together a Montessori cleaning kit.

Just like with child cooking tools, it is important to get them real cleaning tools (not just toy versions) and tools that are small and will fit into their tiny hands. Real cleaning tools have heft to them, and will function properly. If the broom is more of a toy, it will feel flimsy and it also won’t do a good job cleaning, which will frustrate your kid and make them not want to use it for its intended use. Likewise, a grown up size dustpan would be too big for a kid to handle, and they would become frustrated with it and stop bothering with it. So, your goal here should be real tools, for small hands.


The broom is perfectly small and a real broom, made out of wood, metal, and straw. To help kids figure out what the point is, mark a square on the floor with electrical tape or washi tape, and show them how to sweep crumbs into the square. Small kids will need a concrete goalmark, not just an abstract idea of creating a pile.

The Swiffer is just your average supermarket Swiffer, with one of the metal rods left out. Use with either the Swiffer pads or attach a cloth to the bottom to use as a mop. (Trifold cloth baby diapers fit perfectly.)

The duster is adorably small and tiny, and perfect for even a one year old. Tiny Bean used to love brushing all the surfaces down with it.

The microfiber cloth is a standard microfiber cloth from Target, and excellent for wiping down baseboards and surfaces. The kid can really see the dust accumulate on it, which is fun and excellent feedback.

The dustpan set is Montessori-specific, and I haven’t found a small version elsewhere. Dustpans are very difficult for kids to handle (difficult to get crumbs to go in it, difficult to carry it level to the trashcan without spilling anything) so it’s critical the dustpan is child sized.

The basket contains a spray bottle filled with water, scrub brush, and cloth. Bean can use this to clean windows or clean the mirrors in her room and bathroom, or she’ll use the scrub brush and spray bottle to clean tables. The cloth is there to wipe up the water, in both cases. Starting out, it is important to show a kid the order in which you do all these things — first spray, then scrub, then wipe. (I went through many many spray bottles, and this was the only one tiny enough for a small kid to use comfortably and confidently (aka small enough for a small kid to use at all). I bought it in person at Bed, Bath, and Beyond for around $1, but it’ll be more expensive online.)



Now, how to organize all this?

It is very important that a kid can reach and use the tools whenever they like, and also easily put them back. And, yes, this can be done even in a tiny apartment like ours.

An organized, clean space is critical. Once things get messy, a kid avoids it altogether. If they have to ask you to get it for them, then they won’t do it. Order is key.

We attached a broom organizer very low on the back of our kitchen door. This is the one we bought, and it’s been very easy for Bean to use since she was a baby.

The basket, though, sits on a low shelf near her dishes in the kitchen, which you can see in the photo.






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