Maria Montessori was a trained physician and sought to teach children at an early age how to incorporate the practical life skill of personal hygiene into their daily lives. As well as nurturing an understanding that being hygienically safe and healthy is important for their well-being, we want children to be independent in all of the actions that promote healthy living.
The Washing Hands activity in a Montessori classroom is a key element of the practical life area. We aim to teach children the correct process of washing hands with soap and water (before and after every meal, and when hands are simply dirty though play or general activity).
It’s important that children are able to visualise the process of dirty hands becoming clean, and so we choose to practice hand washing with materials that allow this to happen: usually a basin in which to wash their hands, a jug by which to transfer the water, a bucket to help with clean-up, a hand towel, a dry towel, a bar of soap and soap dish, and an apron to protect a child’s clothes.
Children are taught a very particular manner of hand-washing, which coincides with Maria Montessori’s notion that children need order and predictability in order to feel safe and secure in their environment (which, in turn, encourages confidence and a desire to explore and discover).
As with all practical life activities, this method of washing hands aims to develop independence, concentration and the coordination of movement. Once children become confident in this simple exercise within a controlled environment and with all of the Montessori utensils; washing hands at a basin, at home or when out and about, will become second nature.