Montessori: Learning to Get Dressed

As Sarah gets older her room has had a few changes. About a month ago Sarah started to help getting undressed; just lifting her arms up and wriggling her legs. My husband first noticed this and since then has been encouraging her to be a part of the undressing process as much as possible.

This is the dressing area in Sarah’s room. I cleared out the bottom two shelves in her cupboard for a dressing and washing basket. Her old washing basket was too big and so it is now in Jack’s room. The top shelf has two baskets; one for wipes and powder, the other for clothes. Each night I put tomorrow’s clothes in the basket in the order in which Sarah will need them to get dressed. So nappy on the top and then singlet and so on underneath.

The washing basket is on the floor. I have reservations about posting a video or too many photos of Sarah getting dressed and undressed so I’ll just tell you a little about how she is going instead.

In all honesty we haven’t done anything too specific to teach Sarah how to get dressed and undressed. Mostly we have followed her lead. She started to imitate our actions and so we encouraged them.

We try to use very specific language though and describe what we are doing;

This is your shirt. Let’s take off your shirt, arms up please.’ ‘This is your singlet.’ ‘Let’s put on your singlet’. 

Once she was familiar with each item Sarah was then able to get each item when asked;

‘Sarah will you get your singlet please?’ ‘Thank you’. ‘Sarah will you put the wipes away please?’ ‘Thank you.’

By separating the cleaning products (wipes and talc) from her clothes we have been able to reinforce the process; undress (into the washing basket), clean, dress. As much as possible we try to help Sarah to get dressed as opposed to getting Sarah dressed. When she was younger we would often give her a toy for her to play with while we got her dressed. Now we try to have her a part of the process as much as possible. We try to have her standing or sitting, except for changing her nappy, and by asking her to get each item and helping to get dressed, she has something to do and so doesn’t tend to get squirmy or fussy.

Sarah really enjoys helping to get dressed. She will pick each item out and place it on the floor, then carefully put each dirty item in the wash basket making sure that no part is hanging out. It takes a bit longer than if we were to do it, but she is so focussed how could we interrupt?

If you have any other suggestions for learning to get dressed, I’d love to hear them. 


11 thoughts on “Montessori: Learning to Get Dressed

  1. Oh gosh, I wish I had known more about all this stuff when I first became a mother. I feel like I’ve missed so many opportunities and could have done things in different ways. My son is nearly 4, and he wants me to do everything for him – take him toilet, get him dressed and undressed, dry him off after a shower, put his shoes on, etc. I try to encourage him to do it on his own, but he gets frustrated so easily with the dressing, and misbehaves at every opportunity. He just doesn’t want to do things for himself. If I left it to him nothing would happen. He won’t take himself toilet at all, and it gets to the point that he is literally jumping about the place ready to burst, and I eventually step in and say, lets go! Once I layed out all his clothes on the end of his bed, and got myself and his younger brother dressed (dropping hints about getting dressed the whole time) and he just didn’t bother at all and walked out the door in his pyjamas that day. *Sigh*

    • Don’t beat yourself up Katie, he’s still young and there is still plenty of time. Jack has difficulty with dressing and his occupational therapist has us doing some things with him that might also encourage your son to dress himself. She calls it ‘reverse training’. What she has us do is start each item and allow Jack to finish. So we’ll help him put his underwear over his feet and then he’ll pull them up. Then help him put his pants over his feet and he’ll pull them up. The idea is to gradually have him move towards greater independence. So baby steps. Your son might also enjoy choosing his own clothes. You could put out a few clothes for him to choose from and then he can decide.
      Little by little. I’d love to hear how it goes 😀

      • Thank you for your response. I get so frustrated with him sometimes, because I know he can do things for himself, but he either doesn’t want to, or doesn’t think that he really can. So I just need to keep gently encouraging him and hope he gains confidence and sees he can do things for himself! 🙂

      • My son is similar at almost four…likes to have lots of help, even for things he could, and did, do when he was 2, and has taken forever to potty train. I’ve always had him choose his clothes and help with getting them on. A few weeks ago I got fed up and started leaving him to do parts of the dressing process on his own (which also coincided with a stricter, more efficient morning routine, which leaves more time for independence). Sometimes he does it and sometimes he doesn’t, but I’ve noticed him developing pride in himself when he succeeds…and this week he is both trying and succeeding more often. Keep the faith, change happens!

        • We’ve also tightened up Jack’s morning routine which seems to have made a big difference too. There used to be a lot of fluffing around between chores and sometimes it would get to mid morning and his bed still hadn’t been made! Jack also seems to regress at times. For a few months he’d be adamant that he doesn’t need help and then suddenly he decides he can’t do much of anything. You’re right though, we just have to keep plugging on, change does certainly happen 😀

          • Well, we’ve had some more independent toileting progress in the last couple of days, so there were lots of words of praise and stickers put on the sticker chart! Hooray. 🙂 🙂

            I read somewhere once that in following a Montessori approach, a child should neither be praised or berated for achieving/not achieving things on their own. (Something about it being a natural progression, and not requiring external recognition from a parent, but an internal sense of achievement from the child… something like that!) Can I ask what your thoughts are on this?

            • You’re right, since every child goes through their own stages of development at their own time, an intrinsic sense of achievement is encouraged rather than an extrinsic search for approval. This is not just Montessori though, many people have written about praise/punishments. My thoughts come mostly from my experiences when I was teaching; seeing children desperate for praise and rewards, working only to get this praise and reward as opposed to working for the satisfaction of learning. I am not at all against praise though, if something is worth celebrating then we most definitely celebrate it! We do however try to avoid the indiscriminate ‘good job’ ‘good boy’ kind of empty praise. Rather when Jack (or Sarah) does something that makes us happy or that we appreciate (like sharing) we try to say ‘thank you’ or something similar, as you would to another adult.

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