I’ve already mentioned that the initial Montessori presentations given to a child (around age 3) are called “practical life” activities. One of the favorite PL activities is pouring.
Toddlers and pre-schoolers love to pour. By indulging this joy, we are also providing the young child with the means to improve gross and fine motor skills, to learn a skill that furthers independence, to increase her capacity for concentration, and to lay the foundation for further work by learning to do activities and then clean up after herself. All of that, in a little cup of beans or water! The website InfoMontessori has a great description and video of the pouring demonstration here.
Many Montessori presentations are used with a work-mat. The purpose of the mat is to define a workspace for the child, which enhances her focus. Pouring activities are ideally done while seated in a small chair at a small table. The child’s feet should be flat on the floor, with the knees at a roughly 90-degree angle. Swinging legs that cannot touch the ground are a distraction to the child and a hindrance to learning careful movement. This is not a “picky” point, it’s a practical one. Try sitting yourself in a huge chair sometime and work on something important with your legs hanging unsupported; it is simply not comfortable.
At home we have done pouring activities countless times, and sometimes right on the kitchen floor if a table isn’t free. Begin with something dry like lentil beans, and follow the typical steps for presenting a Montessori activity. Small quantities of beans are best to begin with, because the child will be expected to pick up any strays that are spilled, and you don’t want this task to be overwhelming. I’ve found great, child-size pitchers at garage sales and antique stores, or you can buy new ones from suppliers like Montessori Services. A small “crumbing” or dust-broom set can be helpful for clean-up.
Don’t hesitate to use breakable materials. When you say to a young child, “Be careful!” they don’t have any concrete idea of what you mean. But when they drop a glass on the floor and it breaks, they finally understand. Learning is the point here.
As the child ages, proceed to liquids. Clear water is a great choice; coloring can be added for interest if desired, but may also stain your work-mat. Permit the child to pour for as long as she likes, and then help with the clean-up. If there aren’t any children in the home younger than 3, the materials could be left out on a small shelf so the child may use them whenever she wants.
A simple extension for pouring is to provide the child with a small pitcher of milk or juice, kept in the fridge, for independent access at breakfast-time. I’ve never been a “morning person” but children naturally are, so enabling them to fix their own breakfasts at an early age is an activity I’ve long encouraged and benefited from. Promoting skills of independence in older children is extremely beneficial in families with several children!