Washable crayons. Washable paint. Washable markers. Erasable pencils. Washable stamp pads. Erasable Highlighters. Everything in our home right now is washable/erasable!
This is my solution so I can allow my child to draw outside the paper/ blackboard/ intended surface for writing.
My son, currently 2 years and 2 months old, is at that stage where he scribbles ALL DAY. He loves working on pencils and chalks and paints so much that instead of toys, our must-have for his going out bag now is pencil and paper. He scribbles on paper, he scribbles on our bed, he scribbles on his shelves, and his favorite (like every other child out there): scribbling on walls!
Washables and erasables are part of my prepared environment, but, let me point out here that this is not exactly Montessori. I have observed tensions regarding this topic online – I feel (from observation) that many parents/ guides who practice Montessori think this is not Montessori enough. Maybe because it’s not “real enough” (I wonder if they feel the same way towards kinetic sand, for example), or “it was made for the convenience of parents”. They may be right, but if you were to ask me — we will never really know Dr. Montessori’s answer to this one, because washables were invented way after her death.
Personally, if you ask me, I think washables/erasables are genius! You may or may not agree, and that is totally okay – I am sharing our reasons in this post, but also made a disclaimer above so you won’t think this is what all Montessori parents do. 🙂
I shared this solution in an online Montessori group, and someone asked: “Do you think by providing washable art tools, you are giving the child a false sense of their purposes? Do you feel you’ll have to re-teach the child to use non-washable tools when you decide to make the switch?”
These are great questions, questions I asked myself a long time ago. In the process, by asking myself those questions, I only encountered more questions which helped me with my decision.
“What would be the difference in letting him use regular art materials then also clean it after?”
I see many Montessori parents use regular art materials, then share their hacks for cleaning the stubborn marks later on. Children are usually involved in the cleaning process, and parents use different kinds of cleaning materials. Some use magic erasers (just transferred that “magic” to the eraser instead of the art materials themselves). Some try natural solutions like baking soda. Some use soap and water. At the end of the day, we all clean our walls after use, or after a while. I don’t see why we couldn’t use washables to make our lives easier. It doesn’t take away the idea of trying out different cleaning solutions, because depending on surface and how long you leave it (or depending on the color), some washable marks could also be stubborn.
Pencils, including all the regular ones, can be erased. So I don’t see why colored pencils, for example, would have a false sense of purpose.
“Is there a natural consequence to watch out for by letting my toddler use regular art materials?”
I have thought about this a whole lot, and no matter how I try to justify it, it seems like there’s really no natural consequence here in the sense that they would ever think scribbles on the wall is too much, or dirty, or ugly. I’m not sure my toddler would ever think: “I should not have used the crayons. Now they’re all over the wall and they’re disturbing to look at.” In fact, he’ll even enjoy it – he’ll enjoy deciphering his work and telling us what they are.
There’s no natural consequence because…it’s not natural — clean walls is an adult standard. In fact, writing on walls is what’s natural! When your toddler writes on your walls, he is following in the footsteps of our early people – those who passed on history by writing on cave walls!
“Should I keep redirecting my toddler and remind him while he’s working that he should be working on paper / blackboard instead? Is this a wise reaction?”
Redirecting seemed to be a good technique when my son was younger, and yes, we do remind him to only write on paper or the blackboard, but also, as I observe him, it seems that redirecting interrupts him more than guiding him – it seems to me that by doing this even to things that are not dangerous (like drawing on walls) – that I’m taking my support away instead of grabbing the opportunity to support his interest. I remember that video about this 8-year-old child who was interested in long division. After watching some examples, the little girl started making her own problems. But after finding the quotient, the girl would add another number to the dividend, and another – until it became hundreds and thousands and hundred thousands and millions and billions, etc. As the calculations began to near the bottom of the page, the teacher thought of a solution: BRING IN MORE PAPER! By the time the child ended, the papers have reached the floor! I could definitely put papers on the wall (we do have blackboards on the wall – but for obvious reasons, it’s also ineffective to put paper or chalkboard paint on ALL our walls, right? that would create an even worse false sense of purpose if you ask me), but I don’t see why washables can’t also be a good solution for this — I get to support his drive without stressing myself out, then we can work as a team and think of a solution to clean it later on.
“Am I interrupting a developmental need here?”
I think, of all, this is the thing that really helped me seal my decision in using washables/erasables. Dr. Montessori talked a lot about horme, the idea that the behaviour of the child was driven by an inner urge to self-construct. She came up with this concept after observing children, and in essence, young children (0-6) are not aware of why they do what they do, but this inner drive is their guide for that. In short, their actions are not random; their actions are answers to a developmental need.
I think children are really naturally drawn to walls because writing on vertical surface has so many benefits. Talk to an occupational therapist and you’ll know why, but THIS ARTICLE perfectly encapsulates the benefits of writing on vertical surfaces. Vertical surfaces, for example, allow children to move their elbows in larger movements, and as I have learned, for children to actually have developed fine motor skills (which they will need for writing), they first need to really refine their gross motor skills. Vertical writing also addresses spatial awareness, allows child to do midline crossing work and strengthens core and develops good posture. These are all important in a child’s development – which is why I think, even without them knowing why they want to write vertically, that’s what is instinctive for them.
At the end of the day, I have found washables/erasables to be the perfect solution for us for now. They are part of our prepared environment in the sense that
1) I am providing tools for his interests.
2) I can remind him to write only on paper/ blackboard on the wall, but it would be ambitious and wrong of me to expect him to be sitting all day and writing only on designated spaces.
3) I can still have clean walls (also central to Montessori philosophy – beauty and order) without having to stop him from drawing on the walls all the time.
4) I can let go of him writing on the walls without me feeling frustrated, anxious, and mad. This solution allows me to be the kind of adult he needs.
At the end of the day, I don’t think washables/erasables are dangerous nor detrimental to a child’s development. I know some choose regular art materials for the pigments (but this also means sticking only with really good brands, not art materials in general), so I actually experimented on colored pencils myself – used Stabilo, Lyra, IKEA, Faber Castell, and Crayola (washable). You can look it up in my IG stories, but basically, while it’s very hard to write (as in letters) with the washables, when it comes to scribbling (my toddler’s stage now), it’s really usable.
So for now, they are important tools for our home. They help me let my child explore and experiment, and most importantly, respect him while he’s working and protect his concentration.
How about you? Do you use washables/erasables? Even if you don’t, I’d totally love to hear your perspective. 🙂 Again, I don’t think Dr. Montessori had a specific answer on this topic – so I’d love to hear where you are coming from, too!:)
NOTE: I got this message from a Montessori guide, and sharing it here to see the other side (not on the topic of using washables or not, but on writing on walls):
“In our school, when a child writes on tables or walls, we say “we write on paper”. We explain to them why we don’t want to write on tables or walls first: because they share an environment with everyone else. Second, we always use the sentence “be respectful of the things around you” this pertains to the uses/purpose of the things. I would say, tables are where we eat, and we don’t want to write on them because the markers have some ingredients that may be harmful for our bodies. Clean walls look nice and pretty for everyone around us. It is not a place to write.”
I understand that we want them to express their creativity but this is an example of what Maria Montessori said “freedom within limits” – they are free to do and choose their work as long as they are respectful of their bodies, other living things and their “environment.” Now, if a child writes on walls, we usually show them how to clean up, we give them a sponge with soap and scrub the surfaces and dry them with towel.
This way, the child internalizes the lesson behind our ground “rules” and gives them that sense of responsibility to clean up after themselves which helps them towards independence. We always have easels and drawing areas like giant chalkboards on our walls outside our classrooms for them to use as their outlet to release their creativity. It acts like the same as that “wall” but they are using the “space” purposeful for that kind of work.”