Each of our environments has ways of implementing practical life skills and practice activities that are developmentally appropriate and engaging for the children that will use them. While children of all ages benefit from practical life work, it tends to be the most obvious and discussed in the primary classroom. This is likely because between the ages of three and six, children are achieving physical autonomy for the first times in their lives. Their days revolve around finding ways to be physically independent from the adults in their lives.

What could be more empowering to the primary child than being able to dress themselves?

Enter: the dressing frames. Simply put, this series of materials was created so that the child is able to practice a wide variety of closure methods that they will encounter on all different types of clothing.

It all begins with a tall, narrow, wooden stand. This stand was developed to store and display twelve separate wooden frames in a way that is accessible to the children without taking up excessive floor space in the classroom. This four-sided tower has enough space for three frames on each side.

Each frame is made of wood with fabric attached to create a surface. On each frame two separate pieces of fabric meet in the center with various types of fasteners for the child to learn about and use. These include:

  • Small buttons
  • Large buttons
  • Bow tying
  • Lacing (pictured in the photo above)
  • Hook and eye
  • Safety pins
  • Snapping
  • Zipping
  • Buckling
  • Side-release buckling
  • Shoe lacing
  • Hook and loop

When the child first begins using these materials, the guide will give a lesson just as they would with other academic materials. Montessori lessons are very methodical and deliberate, and they include lots of modeling each step of processes.

The guide begins by inviting the child to join them for a lesson. The pair walks over to the wooden stand, and the guide tells the child what the material is called and selects the first (small button) frame. They continue on to sit at a table with the frame in front of them. After letting the student know what the lesson will be about, the two continue in silence. The guide demonstrates how to hold a button carefully between two fingers while pulling the fabric taught with the other hand. They slowly insert a portion of the button into the hole and demonstrate how to carefully pull it all the way through. This continues with each button as the guide works their way down the frame.

Part of any work in a Montessori classroom is leaving the material ready for the next user, so the guide then demonstrates how to undo each button from its hole. At this point, the child is very likely eager to have a turn of their own, and the teacher slides the frame over in front of them. The guide will remain for a moment to observe, but if the child appears to be working without needing assistance, the adults will let the child continue. If assistance is needed, the adult is there to model again.

The child will continue to work with the small button frame periodically until they have mastered it. Depending upon the child and their individual development, this could take hours, days, weeks, or months. Whenever they are ready, the guide will help them by giving a lesson for the next frame in the series. These steps continue until the child has had an opportunity to master all twelve frames, and therefore is prepared to fasten and unfasten a variety of their own clothing.

Being able to dress oneself is a huge step in independence. The frames may seem so simple to us as adults, but to the child, they are a key to becoming their own individual. We are so lucky to be able to aid them on that journey.

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