Helping a child to become independent takes time. It can also be frustrating for parents—and for our little ones. But building independence is crucial for kids’ development. Using the Montessori method, we have some practical ideas for encouraging your child to dress themselves, which can simplify and speed up your mornings.
Knowing how busy weekday mornings can be, try practicing some of these life skills over the weekend or on a slow morning when your child doesn’t feel the added and rushed pressure to get out of the door at a certain time. Remember all of these tips take repetition and time to build expertise, so practice with all the patience you can muster. Here are 5 Montessori-inspired hacks to helping kids get dressed.
Set Your Child Up for Shoe Success
Those shoes with buckles or laces might be cute, but children typically do not learn to tie their shoes until around the ages of 5 and 6. For young children, offer only a few pairs of the same style of shoes so that your child can practice putting them on and taking them off independently. Shoes with velcro straps or stretchy slip-ons are perfect choices. For rainy or winter days, boots with easy-to-pull-on handles are helpful. Give them language around their shoes, like “use your thumb to hold back the heel, and the tongue.”
You can also practice putting on shoes as a family! Make it a quick-and-easy game to take shoes on and off together. As you remove your shoes with your child, go slowly, allowing for time for them to fully master and build muscle memory around doing it themselves. And all else fails, rely on our sticker shoe trick too; cut a sticker in half and place them on either shoe. They can line the sticker up to match which visually demonstrates the appropriate fitting.
Try “Tags to Toes” for Coats and Hoodies
You may already be familiar with the “Jacket Flip” for inviting your child to put on his or her own jacket. Show your child how you lay the coat/jacket on the floor and put “Tags to Toes.” It looks unnatural, standing next to an upside down jacket, but upon hearing this, your child will make the connection to stand by the hood of the outerwear, place hands into the armholes, and flip over his head. Offer to start a zipper at the bottom, so your child can zip himself up the rest of the way.
Create a Child Capsule Wardrobe
As the weather begins to cool and the season changes, filter your child’s wardrobe selection the same way you would your own. From the early toddler age of 2, give your child the control to make his/her own outfit choices. If you don’t want your child choosing their favorite tank top and shorts for a crisp fall day, put those items in storage.
The Montessori philosophy allows the child “freedom within limits.” Pair down the number of pants, shirts, dresses, and jackets that are child accessible and they will still feel empowered to make their own selections, inside the boundaries you have created. Less is more here.
Give Them Language Cues
Young children are absorbing vocabulary and language at a rapid rate, and the more you can talk-through their experiences, the easier it will be for them to categorize their world.
“Find the head-hole” when referring to putting on their shirts or sweaters.
“Look for the tags” when lying pants or underwear flat on the ground so they recognize the back of the article of clothing.
“Pull back the tongue of the shoe” when putting on footwear.
“Pinch the waist band” as they pull up their underwear or elastic paints.
Ask “Is it comfortable?”
Foster a sense of self-awareness for your child by asking the simple phrase, “does that feel comfortable?” If their shoes end up on the wrong feet, or the jacket flipped upside down, you can ask to find out how their body feels at that moment. If the upside down mask or scrunched up socks DO feel comfortable to them, don’t correct them! Allow them to revel in the proud success of having done it independently. And, know that they likely won’t make it to college with shoes inverted, so they should be protected in this space and time.