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Personal Care in a Montessori Home

Welcome to the April 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Kids and Personal Care

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared stories, tips, and struggles relating to their children’s personal care choices.


I was really happy to see this topic come up, because I’ve been meaning to revamp our setup for personal care a bit and this was the perfect excuse. Regular readers know that my past life as a Montessori teacher has compelled me to set our home up with the principles of freedom and independence in mind, but I haven’t talked a whole lot about how we approach personal care routines. I have mentioned that I don’t set up much in the way of proper practical life exercises, because I feel like it makes the most sense to integrate them into home life in a natural way. The below shows how I have attempted to do that in a way that allows A, my 25 month old, maximum freedom and independence in the self-care routine.

The Bathroom

Central to A’s self-care routine is her newly reorganized bathroom shelf, which houses most everything she needs for personal hygiene.

The bathroom shelf

Hand Washing

To give A easy access to the sink, we have a two step stool pushed up against it. Fortunately for me, it’s a double sink, so she and I each have our own designated spot and the stool doesn’t get in my way. I love that this allows us to wash up side by side, too – a time saver and an opportunity for me to model good hand washing as well as tooth brushing, etc. Beside her sink, I have a soap pump that is meant to be easy enough for her to push herself, but she usually needs help. I should replace this with a bar and a dish, but I keep forgetting. Right next to the sink sits the aforementioned bathroom shelf, the top of which holds a small hand towel that A can use for drying.

Face Washing

Also on the bathroom shelf sits a small basket of baby washcloths for face washing. They’re the cheap, thin kind, which I love because they’re easy for A to handle and to wring out herself. We typically get ready for our day after breakfast, at which time A often has food on her face. At this time, or any time that her face needs washing, instead of cleaning it for her, I invite her into the bathroom to assess the situation herself by looking in the mirror. She grabs a washcloth from the shelf, wets it in the sink, wrings it out, and wipes until she’s satisfied with the results. When she’s finished, she climbs down from her stool and pops the cloth into the pail. I won’t pretend I never have to give reminders, or point out spots she has missed, etc, but for the most part this is pretty independent, which is great for my child who does not usually stand for having things done to her.

Tooth Brushing

I think this part of the self-care routine has been the toughest for us. A does not like having her teeth brushed and, like most toddlers, is only just getting the hang of doing real scrubbing herself. For a long time, her version was actually gnawing on the bristles, which was a great start, but didn’t do much in the way of cleaning. I have had to come up with several new ways of getting her teeth properly cleaned, but we’re finally to a point now where she’s doing a pretty decent job all her own, and will usually agree to polite requests to let me do a bit of scrubbing, too.

The key to getting her excited about brushing was compromising on my desire to have only homemade toothpaste in our bathroom and buying her a “natural” tube with a cute picture of a baby on it. Not my ideal, but better to brush her teeth with less than perfect toothpaste than engage in power struggles, or not brush them at all. I’m hoping she’ll be satisfied with the same tube, filled with a homemade replacement when this one runs out (update: she is!).

Anyway, the toothbrushing routine is pretty standard. Each morning after breakfast, and each evening after her bath, A takes her toothbrush from the cup on her shelf, puts a bit of paste on it, climbs up to the sink, and scrubs. It really helps if I brush along with her, as this encourages her to make similar “scrubby sounds,” and keep at it for a reasonable period of time. As time goes on, I may add a sand timer that she can use to time herself as she scrubs, but for now our routine works. When she’s finished, everything goes back in the cup.

Hair Brushing

Also on the bathroom shelf is a little tray with A’s hairbrush, and beside that sits a small spray bottle of detangler. For this, I finally gave up on homemade solutions and started diluting a small amount of conditioner in water. She is still getting the hang of spraying in the intended direction herself, so I usually end up helping with that, and then she happily brushes. She thoroughly enjoys brushing her own hair, but because her curls are rather challenging to untangle without causing pain, I typically help with the back, with permission.

I don’t believe in forcing the issue, however, so every once in awhile we have a matted hair day because A just is not up for having me do any brushing. When we go out on these days, I try not to let concern over others looking at me like a negligent mother get to me too much. Bodily autonomy trumps silky locks in my book. My main concern is that A can take pride her appearance when she looks in the mirror. If she’s not bothered by the missed spot of food on her cheek or the tangles on the back of her head, that’s fine with me.


We have practiced Elimination Communication since A was born, and have tried to give her as much freedom and independence with her toileting needs as each new stage has warranted. Until recently, she always wanted someone to come to the bathroom with her, but in the past month or so, she has started taking herself and often goes through the whole routine from start to finish by herself.

To make it possible for her to get up to the toilet on her own, we keep a small stool in front of it. The toilet itself has a seat reducer on top, which makes it easy for her to situate herself comfortably. We have a bamboo one which is much prettier for photos, but the molded plastic stays in place, and keeps her in place much better, so the bamboo has become our portable seat.

On the back of the toilet is a basket of cloth wipes, which are easy to reach from the stool. I never got out of the habit of washing them when we stopped needing cloth diapers, so we have continued to use them as they’re gentler on the bottom and eliminate any worry over too much paper clogging the toilet. The wipes are easy to reach from the stool and they go right into the pail after use.

The occasional accident, or miss, does still occur, which is why we have a stack of prefolds on the bottom of the bathroom shelf. When urine gets on the floor, A grabs a prefold to dry it up and that goes in the pail when she’s finished as well, along with any wet clothes.

A's Closet

When it’s time to get dressed in the morning or change after clothes have gotten wet, A chooses her own clothes from the closet in her bedroom, which we have made accessible to her by using a tension rod for hanging and a few baskets for things like underwear and socks. Many Montessori parents put together two complete outfits and put these somewhere accessible to the child so that they can choose one each day. This method is great, too, and ensures that the child chooses something appropriate for the weather. Fortunately for us, we live in the land of eternal summer, so virtually all of A’s clothes are appropriate every day.

I try to choose no fuss clothing that is easy to put on without help, but often A still prefers to have help dressing, which is okay with me. Independence to us is not something to force, but something to stay out of the way and allow. I start with the assumption that she is perfectly capable of dressing herself, but I’m willing to help when asked.

Shoes are lined up under a little bench in our entryway and A chooses a pair and, typically, puts them on herself. In our next home, I’ll mount small hooks on the wall inside the door for coats, but for now, well, eternal summer, so there’s no need for that.


Note the face-checking mirror, over in the left corner of the photo.

The Kitchen

In the kitchen, we have a Learning Tower pulled up to a sink where A can wash her hands before and after eating. I have also mounted a small mirror onto the end of a cabinet so that she can check her face after snacks and lunch. Washcloths are available in a low cabinet and she can take one of these up to the sink just as she would in the bathroom, by using the tower.


Things don’t always work as intended, and there are still challenges every now and again, but for the most part our system works just right for our family. Giving A a sense of independence and respecting her bodily autonomy keeps things relatively struggle free, and having a consistent system ensures that there are no surprises in terms of what’s needed each day. We’re constantly changing things as A grows and develops, and as our family’s needs change, but the basic principles remain and so far are serving us fairly well.

I would love to hear what works in your house, and I’m always up for recommendations on ways we might improve our current setup. I’m constantly inspired by ideas I see in place in other homes!


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon April 10 with all the carnival links.)

35 Responses to Personal Care in a Montessori Home

  • Ah, I love hearing how Montessori families set things up! This is perfect. We’re revamping a lot of our house, and I need inspiration for how to foster independence and competence in areas of self-care. I love all the great setup ideas!

    Does A sleep on a pillow? If you give her some silk sheets or a pillowcase, it might help a little with the tangles in the morning. That’s about all I can think to suggest. :) Well, except for my massive post today, lol, which might or might not be helpful.

    Everything here sounds great! Thanks for sharing the inspiration!

    • melissa says:

      Thanks, Lauren! She has a pillow, but she sleeps sideways and upside down and on top of the covers and all over the place ;) I think that’s where most of the tangles come from! Silk sheets would probably do the trick, though! We share a bed, so I’ll have to see if that’s something I can talk the husband into. Could be a tough sell!

      I loved all of the ideas you had, and realized how clueless I am when it comes to caring for her hair in a way that takes into account her hair type. You’re a huge help!

  • So impressive! I love all of the thought and organization you put into everything!
    Charise @ I Thought I Knew Mama recently posted..What’s Essential to Me and a Nordic Naturals ContestMy Profile

  • Erika says:

    I love your ideas. You’ve obviously put so much thought into making personal care easy and fun! Thanks for including pics.

  • Love all of these!! I had Tom install a Kieran-level bar in our closet, and Kieran *loves* it. He now helps me more than ever with laundry, because he takes such pride in hanging up his own clothes – and picking them out is so much easier as well! I would highly recommend it for any child :)

    • melissa says:

      That’s fantastic! It makes such a difference over here, too – I agree it’s worth it for virtually any child!

  • Kimberly says:

    Great tip, diluting conditioner for use as a detangler. Thanks :)

  • teresa says:

    Even your bathroom looks peaceful and beautiful!
    I love this way of doing things.
    I’m the worst about hair brushing, since I don’t always even brush mine! Long wavy hair is sometimes just okay… but Em does need it and luckily her daddy has found his bliss covertly combing her hair whenever she sits near him. It’s some little OCD thing for him, I think. At least it’s productive!
    I’m going to copy your face washing station with the little wipes. That’s a great idea.

    • melissa says:

      Thank you, Teresa! I’m not sure you’d say that if I photographed the whole thing instead of just the two carefully designed corners, right after cleaning, but I’m going to choose to receive that compliment and appreciate it :)

      A dad brushing his daughter’s hair is such a sweet image for me. I seldom brush mine either, but Annabelle’s curls require far more care than I expected!

  • I love seeing how you have set-up cleanliness areas around your home! We also try to have things accessible to our kiddos, and they are pretty good at doing things and wanting to do things on their own, but I know I can improve their access somewhat. Thanks for sharing!

  • Anna says:

    My older children don’t need all the steps to reach sinks and everything any more but we did all of this. I have to say that sadly, it seems that however organised you are when the children were young, when the dreaded hormones hit and the brain shrinks, all manner of mess and loss of independence occurs. I am hoping that this is temporary and that order is actually ingrained and will return once the brain has finished re-jigging!

    Hair is still an issue in my house. Both the girls have bobbed hair and both think they are growing it. You should hear the screams every time it is brushed though. We either need to power through, until the hair is long enough to plait and then they sleep in plaits, or it gets chopped. Very soon!!!

    • melissa says:

      Anna, the voice from the future ;) It’s always interesting to hear how things have evolved for your family as your children have grown. I suspect the order is probably ingrained, as you hope. I look forward to following along with you all and seeing what the verdict is.

  • This is so great Melissa, I love how much control and choice you hand over to A. I love the idea of the two complete outfits for the day, I don’t think the wardrobe would work for us any time soon, as Jesse loves to completely unpack things. Maybe when he is slightly older :)

    • melissa says:

      Thank you, Christine! I love the two outfits idea, too. Giving access to the whole closet works well for us, but I can see how it wouldn’t appeal to others. It definitely gets messy!

  • Amy Phoenix says:

    Love this approach, Melissa. Montessori just make so much sense to me. Thank you for sharing all of these valuable tips; I’m sharing. :)

  • Kenna Lee says:

    I’m ashamed of how completely disorganized I have always been. That said, well… let’s just say that suddenly becoming a single mother has degraded my housekeeping somewhat. Independence, though, that’s something my kids know well. Three kids to one mom, even without too many well-set-up systems seems to have the same effect. But I’m impressed!

    • melissa says:

      Thank you, Kenna! There is definitely more than one way to foster independence, and it sounds like you have found one – or some – that work well for you. I struggle to keep things in order, even with only one child a live-in partner/husband, so I can only imagine the state of disorganization *I’d* be in with three on my own. Nothing to be ashamed about! :)

  • Kellie says:

    What a great set up! We have also worked to keep things so that our kids can do for themselves and the amount of independence it breeds is so wonderful. My 5.5 year old is such an amazing help to me just because she has always believed that she is capable.

  • Amy G says:

    So glad you covered this topic! I am working to try to give Q-ball more responsibility in the personal care realm, as she is obviously ready. It’s been on my to-do list to research a few different ideas! So, far we focus on teethbrushing (we also do the bristle chewing) and hair brushing. And, we are currently screaming through baths, so not sure how I can add anything there- hopefully this will change!

    • melissa says:

      Annabelle used to despise baths, but now she’d take three a day if we let her! Hopefully Q-ball will warm up to them, too. Not everyone is comfortable with co-bathing, but when A was resistant, taking one with her always made it fun enough to entice her in for awhile. Can’t wait to hear what ways you find to encourage Q-ball to enjoy doing for herself – you’re always so creative!

  • Rach says:

    I love all of this. it’s a timely reminder to me too, as things have been a bit slack around here recently. I need to keep reminding myself to step back. Some great suggestions. Love the thin cloths that are easy to wring out, the mirror in the kitchen, and the cloths for the bathroom especially.

    • melissa says:

      So glad some of these ideas were helpful for you! I have a feeling your version of slack is pretty close to my version of on the ball, so if you ramp things up, I’ll be excited to see what you come up with! ;)

  • Amy @ You Shall Go Out with Joy says:

    I love to see the way you have set these things up. I would like to work on giving Gus more independence in his personal care. Well, that, and I would like to remember to brush his teeth every day and wash his hands before every meal, so maybe getting him more involved in it will make those a bit easier!

    • melissa says:

      It took me ages to get to a place of making those things a routine that stuck in *my* mind. I never thought it would be so hard to remember to brush a baby’s teeth, but it was like I had a mental block! I’m definitely grateful for the independence that comes with this stage, because I need the help in remembering all the steps :)

  • I really like how you have made your home so accessible for the little one. This is a great way to motivate and engage independent learning. I will certainly be trying out this approach for my little one :)

  • You’ve done such a wonderful job of setting up your home and routines to encourage independence, Melissa! Thanks so much for linking up with Montessori Monday. I featured your post at the Living Montessori Now Facebook page and added your link to my post on preparing a Montessori toddler environment at

  • eryn says:

    These are such great ideas! Thanks for this post. I love to see what other folks have done in this regard. I could relate to your experience with tooth brushing. My son is in the gnawing-on-the-toothbrush phase. Occasionally, he brushes … a tiny bit, and sometimes I can convince him to let me brush them a little. I’m glad I’m not alone in that struggle. I’m hoping it will pass soon.

    • melissa says:

      You are definitely not alone in the tooth brushing challenges. That’s a topic that seems to come up a lot with friends lately, and virtually everyone with a toddler seems to have a bit of difficulty. I’m sure it will pass!

      • eryn says:

        I hope so!

        I love how you have arranged the cloth wipes for your daughter also. We were doing the same thing while we were potty training because I was still doing cloth diaper laundry as well, but I stopped when we stopped using diapers. We’ve been using baby wipes since then, but those seem to irritate my son’s skin, so I’m considering switching back to cloth.

        My question is: How do you wash them? Do you run them through a quick rinse cycle before throwing them in with the rest of your laundry? I don’t think my DH would go for me just throwing the wipes in with the rest of our laundry.

        • melissa says:

          I do one of two things. Any “accident” related laundry – wet sheets, wet pants, prefolds used for drying up a puddle, goes in the pail with the wipes. Some weeks, there’s enough of this to warrant a small load of just the items in the pail. When there’s not, I usually throw the wipes in with the whites, since I use other bacteria fighting agents in that wash, so it all seems to come out fresh and clean. Once a week seems to be often enough on most weeks, since each wipe only ever gets a few drops of waste on it anyhow – it’s not usually particularly funky.

          A quick rinse before adding to your normal wash is a good idea, too, though!

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