Plant care is a wonderful way to involve your child in collaborating in taking care of the home while also providing an opportunity for them to be independent. This activity is very easy to set up at home, you likely already have many of the materials needed!
Cotton balls or rounds
A small dish for water
Optional: pitcher for bringing water to the table and pouring into the small bowl
How to Present Leaf Cleaning
Fill the small bowl with a bit of water. You can either bring the bowl directly to the sink or you can provide an eyedropper bottle or creamer pitcher for transporting water from the sink to the work area. Once the bowl has water, dip a cotton ball into the water. Show how to gently wipe the leaves of the plant with the moistened cotton ball. After wiping the leaf off, show the cotton ball to your child, bringing attention to the dirt/dust on the cotton ball from wiping the leaf.
Purposes - There are two purposes to this activity, the direct and the indirect.
develop your child’s concentration - focusing on precisely wiping the leaf
control of movement - controlling the pressure used on the leaf of the plant
Independence - the joy of taking care of the plant all by themselves, the trust they receive from you in being able to do this activity
The sequence of action - having the freedom to explore what happens if they don’t wet the cotton ball first, will they collect as much dirt?
Developing a sense of judgment in measuring - if they pour too much water into the bowl, it will spill or be messy, if they do not pour enough, they will have to refill frequently. This development comes from the freedom they get to work on this activity independently.
Care of the environment - taking care of a plant that is part of the home, keeping it healthy and looking beautiful
Developing a sense of beauty - this is developed when they notice that a plant is dirty, when they see the dirt on the cotton ball, when you call their attention to how to keep the plant cared for and healthy.
Some Thoughts on Leaf Cleaning
This activity is good to present to your child around 2.5 - 3 years old after they have already had some experience with pouring. Oftentimes, if you show this activity to a child that hasn’t had enough (for them!) time with simply pouring, you will see them only pouring the water instead of dipping the cotton ball into the water and wiping the leaves. If you notice your child repeating the process of pouring rather than wiping, simply remove this activity and place a tray with two pitchers for pouring back and forth!
When I give this lesson to younger children, I will first gently wipe the top of their hand with the cotton ball while I say “gently” to demonstrate to them physically the amount of pressure I will apply when wiping the leaf of the plant. Not all children need this, but it’s a good starting point for an understanding of what is meant by “gently”.
As with all activities, there should be an expectation of cleaning up after themselves. Providing washcloths or rags for cleaning spills helps to encourage independence. You can make sure that they know where to put dirty cotton balls when they are done with them, along with dirty spill cloths or rags as needed.
You will know your child is very interested in this if you see them clean every leaf over and over! And don’t worry if the leaves are already clean on a particular plant, for them, it is the joy of the process and the control of movement and independence that they are gaining more information from rather than how dirty their cotton ball is! This activity is usually enjoyable from the time you present is at a young age until they are much older. Practical life activities have that effect, they call to the children for a long time!
If you are liked this description, check out my eBook for this activity, and many more! The book also includes links to materials that may not be in your home already and links to additional Montessori resources!