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Using a bulb syringe

using a syringeOur son is now 29 months old. Please note: I use the terms “he” and “him” in this exercise because my child is a boy and I find using “he/she” and “him/her” to be clunky.

This is a simple practical life exercise that uses everyday household objects. It helps to develop finger dexterity and teaches a child to work from left to right, which is useful later for reading. If your child is left-handed, you’ll need to switch things up a bit by sitting with your child to the right of you and using your left hand to demonstrate the exercise.

The control of error for this exercise is that improper use of the bulb syringe will result in either not being able to fill or empty it. Additionally, if your child is not careful with the syringe, water will end up outside the bowls.

I adapted this exercise from Teaching Montessori in the Home: Pre-School Years: The Pre-School Years.
Montessori Monday

Materials needed

  •  Small bulb syringe such as a baby nasal aspirator
  • 2 small bowls, one filled halfway with water


  1. Place the filled water bowl to the left of the empty one in your work area. Sit with your child to the left of you.
  2. Using your right hand, pinch the bulb syringe and insert it into the water. Release your fingers so water is drawn into the bulb syringe.
  3. Bring your hand holding the bulb syringe over the empty bowl and squeeze it again, expelling the water into the empty bowl.
  4. Repeat the process until all of the water is transferred into the once-empty bowl.
  5. Invite your child to try the exercise, setting up the bowls again so that the filled bowl is on the left.

Safety note: To state the obvious, be sure to perform this exercise in an area that is safe when wet (i.e., don’t try it near exposed electrical wires or wall sockets). Also, be sure to clean the floor surrounding your work area if you get water on it, so nobody slips and falls.

using a syringeOur experience

This was the first time I tried this exercise with my son and immediately he wanted to try it. I had a hard time even demonstrating the exercise to him, which of course meant that he had trouble figuring out how to use the bulb syringe. With a little persistence, I was able to demonstrate the use of the syringe to him. He enjoyed transferring the water between the bowls, but did not have an interest in completely emptying or filling a bowl. We did end up with a considerable amount of water on our table as well.

Not fully thinking, I also made the mistake of pouring water from one bowl to another so that he would have a full bowl. Of course, once I did that, he wanted to pour the water between the bowls rather than use the bulb syringe. So that was the end of our exercise.

I also recommend close supervision with this exercise. After I demonstrated it to our son, I placed a tray containing the materials in his Montessori area, not thinking about the fact that his shelf is directly beneath a wall socket (see my above safety note). As you might guess, when he went to use the syringe later, he squirted water directly into our electrical socket. I then went to put the tray on his work table and realized it, too, sits beneath a wall socket (although one that still has baby safety plugs in it). Apparently, we have too many wall sockets in our house or I need a larger house with more options for work areas!


The easiest way to vary this exercise is to vary the materials you’re using. Traditionally, this exercise is done with a bottle with a dropper (I just did not have one of those on-hand), but you could also use a turkey baster with larger bowls or buckets.

What other activities can you think of using a dropper or bulb syringe?

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4 Responses to Using a bulb syringe

  1. What a great idea! Would not have thought to use a bulb syringe! Thanks for stopping by The Iowa Farmer’s Wife!

  2. Awesome idea! I think most parents still have a bulb syringe around somewhere, and this is a wonderful activity for fine motor control. Thanks so much for linking up with Montessori Monday. I featured your post at the Living Montessori Now Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/LivingMontessoriNow

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