Toothbrushing for Toddlers!
In Montessori, we put a lot of emphasis on young children learning basic self-care skills. A big part of self-care is something we do every day, at least twice a day: brushing our teeth! This is a tricky one, though, because we want to teach independence while also ensuring that our children’s teeth are clean and cavity-free.
It’s important to remember that when we introduce toothbrushing, we are not only helping young children develop lifelong oral hygiene habits, but we are also helping them develop a sense of capability. As parents and caregivers, we partner in the process so that years later our children haven’t become dependent upon us for a necessary skill.
In showing and supporting toothbrushing, we want to really isolate and slow down each part of the process. As adults, we often move quickly through the activity. We don’t have to think about the separate steps of what we are doing, because we can rely upon habit and muscle memory. Young children, however, are consciously working through each component. Thus, we have to be very intentional about demonstrating the procedure. In the process, we also highlight what we call “points of interest” which are like little benchmarks that focus children’s attention and help them remember key components.
As with all practical life activities, we want the experience to be meaningful and embedded in a real-life context. Thus, we introduce toothbrushing when it makes sense: after eating!
After enjoying a snack or a meal, we invite a child to the sink to brush their teeth. We often make a point of noticing that we have just eaten and want to clean our teeth, so the child makes the connection of why we are going to use a toothbrush.
Small travel-size toothbrushes work well for children. The toothbrushes can have a case or small enclosure for the toothbrush head and some way to designate which brush belongs to which child (such as a photo of the child). We start by modeling taking our own toothbrush out of the holder and placing it on an empty tray.
Depending upon the child and their age, we might have the child try each step right after we show it. Or if the child is a little older, we may show a series of steps and then invite the child to try. One of the gifts of Montessori is that we can tailor each activity to a child’s needs and temperament.
After the child takes their toothbrush and puts it on the tray, the adult selects a toothpaste container and shows how to open and close it. Because we want the child to only use a small amount of toothpaste, it can be helpful to prepare individual portions of toothpaste. Contact lens holders work quite well for this.
After demonstrating how to select, then open and close the toothpaste container, the adult places it on the tray with the