Why pouring activities?

A sort of ‘trade mark’ of the Montessori method seems to be the pouring activities: transferring either water, grains, nuts or other objects from one container to the other and back again.

Why is such a simple activity so important to have become well known even by those who do not know much about the method itself? And how can pouring not be boring?

This is our little set for pouring water from a tiny (250ml) jug into a small shot glass. We use a steel tray and a small sponge to soak up any spillings
This is our little set for pouring water from a tiny (250ml) jug into a small shot glass. We use a steel tray and a small sponge to soak up any spillings

Well, its semplicity and the natural appeal it has for children are part of the success of pouring. Also, it doesn’t require hard to find or expensive materials in order to be carried out, but it can be done with things commonly found in every kitchen. Try google ‘pouring’ and you will be flooded by images of all sorts of versions of this activity: pouring by hand or with the use of tweezers, spoons, funnels and into vessels made of glass, ceramic, metal which all give different sounds when the material falls into them. The list is endless!

What is sometimes overlooked when this type of activity is done at home, is the focus on the precise execution of the activity which is at the base of the main ‘goals’ for doing it, i.e. eye-hand coordination, fine motor development, self control and logic thinking. Also, watching first and, afterwards, practising how to pour the water from a 1 liter jug into two half-liter jugs, for example, is a fantastic way for the child to experiment with the concepts of quantity, counting and space.

Ideally, the first time an activity is introduced, the parent (or educator or whoever is looking after the child) should demonstrate how to do it and this should be done very carefully:

– with slow and separate, yet harmonic, movements

– withouth speaking

in order to let the child focus on the sequence. After the presentation, the adult should not intervene unless the child asks him so or is no longer interested with the material and starts using it improperly. If there are spills on the floor, it is the child who carefully tidies up after having been shown how to.

For us parents it is sometimes disappointing to realize that our little one is not capable to carry out the pouring soon after the presentation but there is no need to worry. It takes time and practice, just as it would for us grown ups to learn a new task. The important thing is to let the child experiment and try, because any shortcuts affect the learning process and can frustrate your toddler as it would frustrate you in his or her place.

The last reason why pouring activities are so important is a somewhat less evident one, but fundamental: with pouring, as with all the other practical life activities, we take care of the emotional and social relations developement of the children. Getting deeply acquainted with the sorrounding environment turns the child (and therefore, the future adult) into an active element in it, as it grows as an independent individual but capable of interacting with others.

Also, when we feel ‘at home’ and a conscious part of an environment, we naturally strive to keep it tidy and welcoming for us and our family and friends. This, truth be told, is starting a bit to disappear in our western world so it’s all the more important to try and preserve this wish to care for the others.

So, to sum up, activities meant to familiarize with the environment, truly living in it (using it, not a fake version of it), brings up a love for it which will preserve it and enrich the child/future adult.

This also marks another point… let’s try and present sensible activities. If we prepare a pouring activity, before reaching out for the tweezers (even though they might be enjoyable) let’s stop for a moment and think if, in real life, we would actually use those tweezers for the same purpose. If the answer is no, surely we’ll be able to find something else that can be poured or transferred without their use. Children want and need to learn and construct their reality, so we should be sensible and give them this reality they crave so bad.

now that it's summer and we spend so much time outside, I keep the water activity outside on a bench that's at the perfect height and my son can go and drink and practise any time
now that it’s summer and we spend so much time outside, I keep the water activity outside on a bench that’s at the perfect height and my son can go and drink and practise any time

Just to make an example, a sensible pouring activity could be that of the flour from the package into a jar, if that’s how you store it at home, or pouring the liquid soap into its dispenser. Just look around your home and pay attention at which things you pour/transfer and how and you’ll have tons of examples.

Of course you can prepare an area where you keep the trays with the necessary materials and next, the necessary tools for cleaning up in case of spills. Try to use real, pretty objects (even if fragile – trust the child!) possibly not too colorful in order not to disrupt the concentration of the child and of a size suitable to him/her. Always tidy up because it shows that for every action there’s a consequence and it teaches responsibility.

Now that it’s summertime, we enjoy potting plants and we use a little shovel to put the topsoil into the pots: Diego could spend ages with it! Of course, you’ll end up with ten very dirty nails at the end of the work :-p

If you like, share your pouring activities here and how your children enjoy them!

Pouring love to all xxx




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