Developing gratitude in your pre-schooler
Your preschooler is full of curiosity and bursting with potential, always ready to explore the world around them, so how can you help them discover gratitude that will last? We're already role modelling by teaching the magic words like "please" and "thank you". But actions speak louder than words, and genuine gratitude comes from acts that preschoolers can adopt without knowing their hidden learning objectives.
There is magic in everyday tasks that are just chores for us, but when young children do them, they are engaged in an important type of play that helps them understand the world around them - pretend play. The repeated experience, carried out autonomously, encourages the formation of neural pathways and synapses, as Montessori describes in the following quote:
In Montessori environments, everyday tasks, called practical life activities, are purposeful activities woven into the curriculum. Parents may question, "Why is my child wiping the tables and sweeping up? I'm paying for them to do chores in class." Children learn how to pour milk or water and simultaneously learn patience, coordination, and the satisfaction of mastering a new skill (along with maths and pre-literacy skills). They don't just dust shelves - they learn responsibility, care for their environment, and the simple joy of contributing to a shared space.
These seemingly ordinary tasks are called "work" in the Montessori classroom, but your child would be engrossed in pretend play when they use these activities. While your child works, the activities become the building blocks for crucial PSED skills in your child's environment:
- Self-confidence: When your child masters a task, from zipping a jacket to carrying a tray without spilling, it becomes a victory, boosting their self-esteem and fostering a sense of "I can do it!"
- Independence: When your child learns to solve problems independently, from choosing cleaning tools to figuring out how to tie their shoes, it gives a sense of agency, empowers them and encourages initiative.
- Empathy and Care: When your child takes care of the classroom (or a space at home), from watering plants to setting the table, it teaches them to think beyond themselves and care for their environment and others.
- Emotional Regulation: When your child is pouring and scooping, these activities involve focus and control, developing their patience, concentration, and self-regulation skills.
All practical life activities go beyond PSED and become the basis for developing genuine gratitude. Children who learn to button their coats discover the joy of independence and appreciate the help they used to need in the past. They enjoy the table set because they understand the effort involved in setting the table. They become grateful for their food because they helped prepare it.
Genuine gratitude isn't forced or instilled through instruction. Instead, it blossoms naturally through hands-on experiences. Children learn to connect their actions to their needs and appreciate the efforts of others that contribute to their well-being. Developing gratitude takes time and patience. The beauty is that children enjoy the process rather than the end result, so you'll find them spraying and polishing that window for a long time! The benefit of mastering practical life activities is more than just the development of skills to care for themselves and their environment; it is also a love for the world around them, leading to true thankfulness.
The impact of practical life activities develops helpful, mindful individuals who understand the value of contribution and appreciate the little things in life. So, when you see a child carefully polishing a mirror or arranging flowers in a vase, remember, that's not just an adorable moment. It's a spark of PSED igniting, a seed of gratitude taking root and the potential to build a generation of grateful, independent, and caring individuals ready to contribute to a brighter future.
If you'd like to cultivate these skills in your home, start small and the simpler, the better. Important note: no expensive "Montessori toys" are needed, just everything you have at home. Introduce age-appropriate tasks like pouring water, sorting laundry - (matching socks can be fun!), or helping to set the table. Role modelling is critical to motivating your child to participate in practical life activities because children love to imitate!
Need more help with how to get started? Try these ten ideas you can do at home today.
Set up a pouring station with water, rice, or beans. Provide different-sized containers and let them practice pouring from one to another. This helps develop hand-eye coordination and concentration.
Involve them in simple food prep tasks like washing vegetables, mixing ingredients for baking, or spreading toppings on bread. This fosters independence and fine motor skills.
Encourage them to dress and undress independently. Practice buttoning, zipping, and tying shoelaces. This promotes self-care and enhances fine motor skills.
Teach your child to dust surfaces, sweep floors with a child-sized broom, or wipe spills with a cloth. Engaging in these tasks instils responsibility and a sense of order.
Plant seeds or small plants in pots. Allow them to water the plants regularly, observe growth, and care for the garden. This activity teaches patience, nurturing, and appreciation for nature.
Provide a variety of objects for sorting by colour, shape, or size. They can also match socks, sort cutlery, or organize toys into categories, enhancing classification skills.
Teach them how to set the meal table - placing utensils, plates, and napkins. This teaches orderliness and prepares them for mealtime routines.
Offer opportunities for creative expression through drawing, painting, cutting, and pasting. Let them explore different textures and materials to help unlock their creative flair.
Introduce simple sewing activities using blunt needles and yarn or threading beads onto strings. This improves hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills.
Assign them responsibilities for caring for pets (under supervision) or plants. Feeding pets or watering plants regularly instils empathy and a sense of nurturing.
Getting involved in practical life activities develops empathy, so celebrate their efforts with phrases like "You did that yourself" or "You did it!" and provide gentle guidance and motivation by role modelling.
Children need regular hands-on learning experiences, but remember, it's not about perfection in buttoning a coat or dusting a shelf for your little one. It's about the process that will nurture self-confidence and strengthen emotional intelligence and empathy, which are connected to gratitude. So, the next time your child engages in practical life activities, note that they are developing feelings that lead to appreciation for the little things that make life meaningful.