Imagine this: Your preschooler is finally at the point where he or she can dress independently and you're so excited, because this means that mornings will be a bit easier and there is one less thing that you'll have to do for them. They go into their room and moments later, they're calling for you because they can't reach this or that item. Or, they emerge a while later dressed in a sundress and sandals on a winter day.
In Montessori, we follow some pretty fixed rules when it comes to cultivating independence for children. Firstly, we prepare the environment. In the classroom, this means a clear and orderly system of organization in which everything has a home; that tables, chairs, shelving and so on are all child-sized and accessible to children; and we make sure that everything is beautiful, inviting and attractive. Then, through a set of simple rules, we limit children's choices. (More on those rules in this post). It works wonderfully!
We do these things in order to set the children up for success and all of these same principles can and should apply to all areas of your child's life at home. So let's break it down with regard to clothing and dressing.
Although Coco's rooms have both had closets since she's been old enough to dress herself, we decided to invest in a child-sized armoire from IKEA for her hanging clothes and shoes instead. If you don't want to spend the money, or don't have the space, you can also install a hanging rod lower in your child's closet, but the clothing must be at their level and accessible. Along with Coco's armoire, we got the matching chest of drawers. She can open and see into both drawers without pulling or tip-toeing which also makes it much safer than a tall chest of drawers.
Everything has a Home
I'll be doing a full-length post with interior closet and dresser photos on clothing organization soon, so stay tuned for that one! But, the general idea is that clothing is organized by type and folded so that it can all be seen. I follow the same drawer layout for Coco's and Theo's dressers so there is no confusion when putting clothes away on laundry day.
Beautiful and Inviting
Children take pride in their room and their space when we help them cultivate an attitude of caring for their environment. Choose furniture and objects that they'll like, or let them help you choose their own furniture and decor. When they love it, they'll naturally want to care for it.
This really is the point of this whole post, but it wouldn't do to just talk about this one piece without the preparatory pieces above. So once you have accessible, organized and attractive clothing organization in place for your child, make sure that only appropriate choices are available at any time.
Appropriate choices include
- Seasonally Appropriate - As the seasons change, go through your child's clothing and remove anything from rotation that is not suitable for the weather. It's only fair to do this, because children want to choose their own clothing and feel independent in dressing themselves. If they go and do what we've asked them to do, it deflates their sense of pride and accomplishment when we then tell them they made poor choices. If, on occasion, you get into a power struggle over clothing, depending on the circumstances, let it slide. For example, if your child refuses to wear mittens, just say, "Okay, I'll put them in my bag in case you change your mind." Chances are they will and it will be their own choice to put them on rather than a struggle. But, if it's genuinely unsafe, obviously we have to keep our children safe.
- Clothes That Fit - Coco will insist that things she loves still fit and will try to squeeze herself into them and I always let her do this. Most recently, she wanted to wear a pair of wool tights I had handed down to Theo to layer under his jeans on cold days. I told her they were too small, but when she insisted, I let her wear them anyway. When she got home, she commented that her tights wouldn't stay up at all during the day! She hasn't tried to wear them since! ;) Just this morning, I noticed that the sweet dress she chose for today has gotten too small. But I didn't say right then and there that it was too small, or ask her to change. I just made a mental note and when I see it come through the laundry, I'll take it out of rotation.
It's important to make pulling clothes out of rotation easy by having a small bag, box or bin to put pulled items in right in your child's bedroom. It should be somewhere you can easily get to it, but where your children can't (we keep ours on the top shelf of the closet in their room). Every six weeks or so, go through and take out anything that doesn't fit anymore. Or, when things you've mentally flagged for removal come through the laundry, just fold them along with everything else and then put them in the box instead of their former home as you put everything away. Coco is getting better at hanging clothes on hangers and putting her things away after we do laundry, and even Theo likes putting folded clothes away in his drawers. Because I know she'll be upset to see me put things in the box in the closet, I'll often put these aside and do it when she doesn't see.
When you limit your child's clothing choices, you really set them up for success. They'll get the satisfaction and confidence that comes with independence in dressing and they'll always be comfortable and appropriately dressed. This sort of independence goes a long way in helping children feel capable and build self-esteem. And that is good all around!