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Setting the table

Our 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. 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 the silverware and plate will not match the outlines if they are placed in the wrong spot.

I adapted this exercise from Teach Me to Do It Myself: Montessori Activities for You and Your Child.

Montessori Monday

Materials needed

  • Large basket
  • Large sheet of thick paper
  • Pencil
  • Black marker
  • Small plate
  • Table knife
  • Dinner fork
  • Dessert spoon


  1. Place the plate, fork, knife and spoon onto the piece of paper as you would set a table. Trace around the utensils and plate with a pencil and then go over the outlines again with a marker to make them stand out better on the paper.
  2. Place the utensils and plate in the large basket and ask your child to bring them to your work area. Place the paper with the outlined place setting in front of the basket.
  3. Sitting with your child to the left of you, tell your child that you are going to match the plate to the one on the paper. Trace the outline of the plate with one of your fingers and trace it again on the paper to show your child that the shapes match.
  4. Ask your child to match up the utensils with the outlines on the paper.

Safety note: Please supervise your child whenever using sharp objects such as knives.

Our experience

setting the tableYesterday was the first time we tried this exercise with our son and he seemed to really enjoy it. He was able to place the utensils in the right spots immediately, although he did not put the knife facing the correct way. He repeated the exercise several times, and he returned to it later throughout the day. When he returned to the exercise, he did end up taking the knife from the table and running toward our dog, so I had to remove the knife (see my above safety note).

Since it had proved so successful, I made several more paper place settings so we would have one for each of us and I encouraged him to set our table as well, but unfortunately he did not show much interest in that. I could only get him to put his silverware on his placemat.

Still, I am encouraged by his interest and hope to make setting the table one of his regular household tasks. Since the paper placemats do not hold up very well to family life, I am considering making some out of fun patterned cardstock and laminating them or purchasing them from michaelolaf.com or etsy.

Additional activities

  • Try adding additional objects to the place setting, such as a bread plate, dessert plate, glass, napkin (you don’t need to create an outline for the napkin, just show your child that it goes under the fork), cup and saucer, salad fork, etc.
  • Once your child has mastered the place setting, have him try it without the paper outline. He can use the outline to check his work.
  • Have your child set your dining table.
  • Show your child different ways of folding a napkin.

What other activities can you think of to involve your child in setting the table?

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