Just Happy Cleaning Windows

Both of my children attend a Montessori school, where one of the basic philosophies is that children’s play is valuable work and should be regarded as such.  To this end there are various “practical life” stations in the classroom where the kids have scaled down versions of adult activities, like laundry hanging, dishwashing, and sweeping.  (I’m waiting for the class to have a few more useful ones, such as “cooking dinner” work, “putting self to bed” work, or “zymurgy for toddlers.”) One of the favorites is always “window washing” work.  I’m not sure why this is such a big hit, though I think it’s partly because it’s simply fun to spray a water bottle.  I purchased a set recently from a Montessori supply website, though I could probably have just put the whole thing together with stuff from the dollar store.

My intention was primarily for the girl to use it, but the boy grabbed it and proceeded to wash every window in the house.

The girl got into it, too:

She particularly loved the squeegee, and once when the boy tried to use it, she snatched it back from him and proceeded to whack him on the head repeatedly with the hard plastic side in a fit of rage. This landed her in time out rather quickly.  The boy, to his credit, never cried or lashed out at her, but instead walked over and sat down in front of her.  “It’s okay, sweetie pie,” he said. “I’m your brother and I love you.  Can you say sorry and give me a hug?” They gave each other a hug and promptly returned to window washing, while I got teary-eyed.

On another occasion, the girl picked up a towel and began to wipe off the fridge, completely of her own volition.  Seriously, this must be how they get the school clean.  I wonder if they’re licensed for child labor.  Should I notify the authorities?

She then made the sign for milk, so I handed her a sippy cup thinking she must be thirsty.  She instead proceeded to do this:

See? She realized that the fridge wasn’t actually dirty when she was cleaning it, so she purposefully dripped milk on it and then wiped it off, which gave her a great deal of satisfaction:

The thought process mystifies me–I wish I knew exactly what was going on in that little brain.  Does she need to feel that her work is purposeful? Or did she just want something to wipe off?  I’d like to think that it’s the former, since really, don’t we all want our work to be meaningful?  It reminds me of the Van Morrison song, “Cleaning Windows,” in finding happiness and satisfaction in simple, purposeful work.

Or maybe, sometimes spilling milk is just making a mess for the fun of it.

7 thoughts on “Just Happy Cleaning Windows

  1. Deirdre says:

    Cleaning is a favorite activity in our house, too—at least for the under-five set. I shudder to think how filthy our house will be when they outgrow this stage.

    Other handy uses for kids: Sidamo can now make muffins almost entirely unassisted. He can’t yet make coffee, but he can clean the coffee maker. Nora unloads the dishwasher and laundry for me. And if you ever need lids placed on jars, she’s your gal.

    But I’m with you—the day they bring me a cup of fresh-brewed, perfectly creamed coffee in bed is the day I decide this whole endeavor has been worth it.


  2. Gizabeth Shyder says:

    My son Jack LOVES the window cleaning, too! His favorite game, a couple of years ago, was to hide under the kitchen sink, crack open the two cupboard doors, and spray noxious cleaning substances (that I quickly had to move to higher ground) at whatever adult leg happened to cross his path. It cracked me up. Cecelia never really got into it. She much prefers to do art.

    We did Montessori, too, for a while. Loved it.

    OK, I could read your blog all night, but I’ll have to slow down and savor. I started getting Christmas cards in the mail tonight and realized I hadn’t even done mine, had to dress the kids in PJ’s and pose them in front of the tree.


  3. montessorimatters says:

    I absolutely loved the pictures and narrative! As far as the little one, they love repetition, so when they’re done with an activity they’ll mix things up (or in this case, get things dirty) in order to repeat the work. They know, without being told, that practice makes perfect. 🙂


    • sajbat says:

      Thanks for the comments! I love that insight that the kids will repeat the work to make it perfect, and in this case that involved re-dirtying the fridge.


  4. Charlotte Overstreet says:

    I am a Montessori teacher and mom to three. This is beautiful and yes work makes kids feel good. Real work! This is what we want our kids to look like after work! Happy.


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