Handle With Care: Fragile Objects and Montessori Philosophy

Posted by Mandy Abel on

“Education should no longer be mostly imparting of knowledge, but must take a new path, seeking the release of human potentialities.” Maria Montessori

In a world where it seems like everything is baby-proofed for our little ones (sometimes excessively so!), we might overlook the importance of teaching children the art of handling fragile objects. This is a practical skill which fosters responsibility, trust and a sense of appreciation for the world around us. 

Excessive childproofing, or only providing plastic and child friendly alternatives to real world items can inadvertently rob children of the chance to make mistakes and have powerful learning experiences. I believe that even babies and toddlers can grasp the concept of 'being careful'. By teaching them how to handle fragile objects we provide them with valuable lessons in responsibility and self-awareness - along with many other benefits.

Benefits of Teaching Children to Handle Fragile Objects

Teaching children to handle fragile objects goes beyond safeguarding breakables; it's about nurturing essential life skills. Through this process, children develop patience, attention to detail and fine motor skills that are not only practical but also applicable in multiple aspects of their lives, from school projects to lending a hand in the kitchen.
In addition, entrusting children with fragile items fosters a sense of responsibility, instilling a mindset of ownership and accountability for their actions. This responsibility cultivates trust, not only from caregivers but within the children themselves. It empowers them, making them feel valued and capable of shouldering more significant responsibilities as they grow.
Beyond skills and responsibility, handling delicate objects also encourages children to appreciate the world around them. It teaches them to recognise the value and uniqueness of these items and in this process, they learn the importance of treating everything (not just objects!) with care and respect.

Our magnifying glass in action looking for bugs - carefully handled by a four year old (with supervision!). This teaches children to handle objects with care and place value on their 'treasures'. Image Credit: Alyssa Sills

    Montessori Philosophy and the Use of Real World Items

    The Montessori philosophy emphasises the use of real-world resources and materials, to provide children with meaningful experiences. It encourages children to engage in practical life activities which contribute to their household or learning environment - for example by setting the table, arranging flowers or dusting. This promotes independence, self-confidence and a sense of responsibility and children become active participants in their daily routines.

    Exposure to real-world objects adds a sense of authenticity in play and learning. It connects children to the world around them and nurtures their curiosity and respect for the things they interact with. Dealing with fragile objects can also show a tangible link between actions and consequences.

    How to Get Started

    START WITH SIMPLE OBJECTS -  Begin by introducing children to simple and sturdy fragile objects, such as a ceramic mug or a glass jar. Demonstrate the proper way to hold, move and set down these objects. Encourage them to explore the texture and weight, while emphasising the need for gentle handling.

    SET CLEAR BOUNDARIES - Establish rules and boundaries regarding handling fragile objects. Teach children to ask for permission before handling such items and explain when and where it's appropriate to interact with them.

    PRACTICE WITH SAFE MATERIALS - Utilise child-friendly alternatives or inexpensive op-shop finds, to provide a hands-on experience without the fear of accidental breakage. This allows children to practice and refine their skills in a safe environment.

    GRADUALLY INCREASE DIFFICULTY - As children become more comfortable with handling basic fragile objects, gradually introduce them to more delicate and valuable items. Monitor their progress and offer guidance whenever necessary.

    Several of our play sets, such as this natural potions kit, include glass elements. Glass bottles are both eco friendly and give a more authentic experience in play than their plastic counterparts.

    When Things Go Wrong

    Accidents happen, and it gives us a great way to teach children how to respond responsibly when mishaps occur. 

    1. Stay Calm: Emphasise that mistakes are a part of learning. Encourage children to be honest about what happened.

    2. Take Immediate Action: Help children to clear away the mess promptly, teaching them proper cleaning and safety techniques. Let them assist in the process (where safe to do so).

    3. Discuss Consequences: Engage in a constructive conversation about the consequences of the accident. Help children understand the value of the broken item and brainstorm ways to prevent similar incidents in the future.

    4. Reinforce Learning: Use the experience as a learning opportunity. Encourage children to reflect on what they've learned and praise their efforts in taking responsibility for their actions.

      Examples to Try

      The Montessori philosophy and the use of real-world items can enhance a child's learning experience. The goal is to introduce these items gradually and under supervision, tailoring each experience to the child's age and maturity level. It's important to prioritise safety and ensure that the items being used are age-appropriate and not overly valuable.

      • Ceramic Plates and Bowls: These can teach children how to hold, serve, and eat from fragile dishware with care.
      • Glass Cups and Mugs: Introducing glassware allows children to practice holding and sipping from delicate containers.
      • Glass Vases: Arranging flowers in glass vases not only teaches gentle handling but also introduces children to the art of flower arrangement.
      • Porcelain Teacups: These are perfect for a pretend tea party, teaching children about the delicate nature of teacups.
      • Decorative Figurines: These items can help children practice holding and displaying delicate ornaments.
      • Glass Christmas Ornaments: When the holiday season comes around, children can learn to handle and hang fragile ornaments on the tree.
      • Antique Items (under supervision): With careful supervision, children can learn to appreciate and handle antiques or family heirlooms.
      • Fragile Craft Projects: Introduce children to art and craft projects that involve fragile materials like glass beads, delicate fabrics, or thin paper.
      • Musical Instruments: Teaching children to play instruments like the piano or violin can demonstrate the importance of gentle handling.
      • Nature Items: Delicate items from nature, like feathers, leaves and seashells, can be used to teach children about the fragility of the natural world.
      • Cooking Tools: Teach children to handle delicate cooking tools, such as pastry brushes or delicate utensils, while assisting in the kitchen.
      • Photographs or Art Prints: Show children how to handle and display framed photographs or art prints with care.

      The greatest gifts we can give our children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.”

      Teaching children to handle fragile objects is a vital aspect of their overall development. Through this process, children acquire essential life skills, develop a sense of responsibility and cultivate an appreciation for the world around them.

      By incorporating the Montessori philosophy and using real-world items, we provide children with meaningful and practical experiences that enhance their learning. We empower our children with valuable life skills and gift them a sense of responsibility, trust and appreciation that will go on to benefit them throughout their lives.

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