Polishing is very popular practical life work in Montessori circles. Many introduce the idea with beeswax and wooden toys, but I thought we'd try our hand at polishing some silver. I know at first glance this looks pretty bougie (I mean, who has silver any more, really?), but at its heart this is really an activity about sustainability.
If we want to teach our children to opt out of the disposable culture in which we live, they need to be instilled with a deep respect for the things that they own. They need to be taught that we don't throw things away when they get dirty or broken. We take the time and the effort to clean and to mend. We take great care with our items so that they last a lifetime (or more) to be used over and over and then handed down to be used some more. The best way to do this, I think, is by involving children in the care of the household in a very hands-on way from a very early age. Whether it's the daily work of sweeping and washing dishes or the sporadic work of repairing a broken step or polishing the dishes, encouraging our children to work alongside us teaches them these valuable lessons while at the same time forging family bonds that are strong.
So let's dive in.
I set up the tray with some tarnished items from our home (a silver plate cup and dish from my childhood and a silver coffee pot that I picked up for a few bucks at the thrift store), a rag, and a small bowl of non-toxic polish (baking soda mixed with just enough water to make a paste). The rag is a small square cut from a larger piece of cloth (to fit his small hands) and I made sure to only give him a small amount of polish so that he wouldn't get overwhelmed.
Without words, I demonstrated how to scoop a pea-sized bit of polish onto the rag and then rub it on the silver. I then handed the rag to Silas.
He polished for a bit with the rag, but didn't like getting the baking soda paste on his hands. So, I gave him an old, soft toothbrush to polish with. The long handle allowed him to work without getting his hands dirty.
He polished the cup for awhile and then switched to the pot, which was easier because he didn't have to hold it in his hand.
We worked together, side by side, in silence, for a long time. Each of us focused on our own polishing. No instruction or correction, just parallel working.
After some time, he grew more comfortable with touching the baking soda and started using his hands to rub it around, the way that mama was doing.
After 40 minutes or so, the baking soda started to dry and clump up a bit and he started flicking it around and then tried to taste it. I took this as the sign that we were done. I used a kitchen towel to wipe off all the baking soda residue and asked him to help me wipe up the table as I put everything away.
The coffee pot went back in Silas' play kitchen where he uses it as a blender, an iced tea maker, or whatever else his imagination calls for. The dish and the cup went back in the cupboard where they will continue to be used often as we share our meals and our days together.
Silas is 2.5 years old.