Glass is a familiar material which Montessori babies and toddlers come into contact with. Montessori caregivers introduce a glass weaning cup to babies when they are first introduced to solids/water. Montessori classrooms commonly leverage glass (beakers, cups, bowls and droppers) in children's work trays and self-serving water stations.
In my Montessori-inspired homeschool, glass is a common, everyday material. Specifically, my toddler has free access to a glass pitcher for drinking water, she helps herself to snacks in mason jars and glass lunch boxes, and she uses glass mixing bowls and spice jars in practical life activities.
In this post, I'll share how I started our journey of introducing and using glass in our homeschool environment, the benefits, the watch-outs, the signs for 'readiness' and what to do when glass does break.
Introducing Glassware to Toddlers The Montessori Way
Why Does Montessori Advocate Glass Use for Children?
Glass and other breakable materials have "control of error" built in. They are materials that help children identify mistakes and correct them without the help of an adult.
For instance, when a child fetches a glass container of and drops it, causing it to break, he/she would be, understandably, distraught. This experience teaches a lesson on handling fragile items with far more care and with concentration than any other regular material. Without an adult stepping in to 'correct', 'teach' or 'punish', the child learns the lesson all by him/herself. This life lesson on 'irreversibility' and consequence of own actions can't be learnt as effectively with safer materials like plastic, wood or metal.
So while it's a nerve-wrecking decision to introduce glass to young children, there are strong reasonings to back it. Developmental benefits that come with glass use are myriad, and include:
Fine motor development: When children use glassware and are intentional about being careful with them, they rapidly develop fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, motor planning and control. We can support this learning process by providing presentations like placing down and lifting a glass to guide them.
Learning responsibility: Children who use real plates, bowls, cups etc feel the difference in the weight, density and texture of the material. The aesthetic beauty, smooth and weighted feel of glass signals to their brain a need for gentleness when handling the material. When using glass, children feel that they are entrusted with adult-like responsibility and often rise to the occasion and beyond. The vote of confidence in their abilities from adults develops their own sense of confidence in themselves.
Care: Through a firsthand experience of using glass, and watching glass break (and being unable to come back together), children understand the concepts of fragility, vulnerability and irreversibility. These concepts can be applied to various aspects of lifelong education and would guide them in adjusting their decisions and behavior in interacting with their environment.
Independence: When children can handle glass, they can handle a lot of things in the kitchen. This ability enables them to contribute to meals and family activities, promoting independence. It also saves caregivers buying a new set of kitchen utensils just for them to help out in the kitchen!
My Personal Reasons for Introducing Glassware
Transparency of material: The inherent transparency of glass is great for letting my child and me see the water level and proactively refill the water pitcher/snack jar/painting container. My daughter often reminds me when water run out.
Clarity of material: It's easy to visually see if my daughter's glass utensils need cleaning (foggy/misty especially when touched with oily fingers) without having to touch the surface to tell.
Non-toxic and safe: The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends glass or stainless steel as one of the safest materials for children's food storage.
Putting a visual marker on glass cups to encourage drinking of water: This is a great tip from a mama friend. For children who don't drink enough water, urging them to drink more often fall on deaf ears, in part because children don't know how much is more. Placing a small strip of washi tape on a glass cup can help children visualise the amount to drink and this boosts children's willingness to drink water to the desired level.
Easy to clean/sterilise: Glass is heat-safe so it's easy to disinfect and sanitise with hot water/microwaving etc.
How to Introduce Glassware Safely to Children
Teaching about materials: Name and explain the different types of materials common in children's everyday lives, like glass, wood, metal and plastic. Having children learning to differentiate materials help them develop different approaches to using them.
Presentation is key: As mentioned, provide consistent and through presentation on basic use of glass (placing down, lifting, pouring etc). Use glassware yourself and in sight of your children so you model the preferential treatment, how to do it carefully and with focus. This would give children a good example to emulate, and understand the gravity of using glassware.
Set rules: Montessori is about providing children with freedom within limits. Some limits that can help reduce accidents of breakage are: Both hands have to be holding the cup at all times / Glass containers have to be placed at the center of the table, not at the edge / No walking around with the cup (You can implement this restriction only at the start and when ready, you can guide children to carry glass dishes to the sink). Follow up with clear and consistent reminders.
Redirect any inappropriate behavior: If children show reckless behavior while using glass, or fail to respond to instructions, explain, "It is important to me that you handle glass carefully so it does not break. Please use this instead and we'll try glass again when you're ready." Offer safer alternatives. Keep the glassware and reintroduce at a later timing.
Which Glassware Should I Introduce?
Types: Not all glass are made equal, there are hardier options than others. Reach for Montessori recommends tempered glass which is more shatter-proof.
Sizes: Set children up for success by introducing child-friendly utensils that fit their needs and grip. E.g. How We Montessori recommends ~90ml for baby weaning glass cup and ~150 for toddlers. The Kavanaugh Report recommends the IKEA Pokal shot glass for a baby weaning cup for its perfect size, shape and heaviness.
How Do I Know My Child Is Ready to Use Glassware?
- Is there a right age? I personally don't think age is a good indication for readiness of the child to use glass. I know there are Montessorians who advocate starting early, at 6 months, to build the conditioning right from the start. I personally prefer introducing glassware to children when they can comprehend and process instructions, around the age of an older toddler. I think observation is key to identifying the 'readiness' - when your child gains fine motor control, awareness and is responsive to instructions, or expresses the wish to.
My story on how I knew my daughter was ready for glassware:
Some background - My daughter uses a metal cup for drinking but is indirectly exposed to glass (mine) in everyday life. I've a low dining table and I always have glass drinking cups and/or a glass water pitcher on top. These items are within her reach which she knows not to grab/knock off the table from constant reminders ("These glass cups belong on the table.")
One day, my daughter intently watched me drink from a glass and then signed that she wanted water too. As I prepared to pour water into her metal cup, she pointed at my drinking glass, implying that she wanted to drink from mine. Why not? I thought. I placed the glass in her eager two hands, guided her to grip firmly, and watched her carefully tip the glass to drink. This serendipitous incident marked her graduation into glassware, and shortly after, I introduced a self-serve water pitcher at the low dining table so she could have access to water at all times.
Having the environment with glass naturally forming a part of it provided the right exposure, and opportunity for her to transition to it when the time was ripe.
- Take incremental steps: Instead of going straight to putting out glass in your child's environment, you could scaffold skills like introducing water pouring stations using glassware, with a towel nearby for spills. Build on these skills until your child is familiar with glass and can permanently use it.
Are YOU ready?
Brace yourselves, there would be negative comments and scepticism and critics from people around, especially those who're not Montessori-inclined.
...they place more importance on the glass than on the child; an object worth a few cents seems more precious than the physical training of their children.
- Dr. Maria Montessori
I have received a fair share of comments but my decision has not wavered. Research, reasoning and mama instincts are your guiding forces to help you stay firm on the decision. Remember not to only focus on the end-goal (glassware-trained children), but pay attention to the progress and journey of imparting life lessons to our children.
Once you get over the external opposition, face your inner one. The biggest 'enemy' could be YOU.
There are many reasons not to start. It could feel stressful to make this lifestyle shift, and the fear of glass breakage and injuries is definitely not for everyone.
How We Montessori and This Merry Montessori shares authentic accounts of their experiences introducing glass to their young children. While it's not a walk in the park, they are satisfied with how the journey turned out.
My own experience? To date, Miss 2.5 has broken glass 3 times, but thankfully has not sustained any injuries. Each time she accidentally broke a glass, she got so upset that she would have a meltdown. I would acknowledge her upset feelings, and talk about things we could do to wield some control over the incident. These experiences while distressing provided opportunities for her to learn emotion regulation.
What Should I Do When Glass Breaks?
Safety first: When a glass my child is handling breaks, I ask her to stand still. Some SOPs call for asking the child to move away from the broken glass, but I personally prefer asking my child to be stationary in case she steps on inconspicuous glass shards. While standing still, screen your child for injuries and treat minor cuts by cleaning the wound, applying pressure to stop bleeding and keeping it dry. If foreign bodies get lodged in the skin, seek medical attention promptly. When in doubt, seek professional help from your paediatrician.
Proper cleaning and disposal of broken glass: It is important to explain the importance of cleaning and safe disposal of broken glass to children. They need to understand that glass pieces are sharp and if not cleared away, might cause injury to themselves or a household member. This knowledge helps them in self-care and care for other people/the environment.
Currently, I ask my toddler to observe the cleaning and disposal process (while safely seated away from the accident scene with her feet raised). In the future when she is ready, I would involve her in the clearing process.
- Take an empty cardboard box
- Place big glass pieces in it
- Use a vacuum cleaner (or broom or brush & dustpan) to remove smaller glass pieces from the floor. Cover a large surface area as glass pieces can fly over a significant distance when shattered. Repeat several times until assured that all glass pieces have been picked up
- Tape the box securely and dispose in Garbage*
*Broken glass should not be placed in recycle bins as it is hazardous to workers who collect and sort recyclables.
I hope this post is useful and that your little one has a smooth and safe experience with glassware!
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Note: I'm a regular mom who's not Montessori trained but hugely passionate about the Montessori way of parenting. The information shared is from research and recommendations from a Montessori-aligned community. I welcome suggestions to improve the accuracy or quality of this post. Thanks in advance!
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Hi! I am Yunnie. I am the newly minted mama to a little baby girl and a mum friend to everyone on this special (and many times scary) journey of motherhood. Also a graduated bride with a penchant for weddings.