About Montessori, toddlers, and soap. LOL, yes, soap.

This entire post is, believe it or not, about soap.

As any AMI montessori guide knows, hand washing is a huge part of a Montessori toddler program environment.  Adults are all obsessed with trying to keep our children and ourselves as healthy as possible.  This means washing hands as much as humanly possible.  Plus, any AMI Toddler guide just knows that toddlers are somehow obsessed with soap. They are happy to wash their hands just for the heck of it.  When they first transition into a Montessori AMI toddler classroom, they are utterly obsessed with running the sinks and all the bubbles soap creates.

That being said, what kind of soap to use with your toddler, or in your program can be a fascinating issue to consider.  Here’s the rundown of advice from my personal experience. (:

BAR SOAP: If you choose to use bar soaps in your program, my strongest suggestion is travel-sized bar soap, or slices of a standard bar soap,  that has exfoliating ingredients to improve traction.   Otherwise, the soaps are just going to slip out of the children’s hands.  Very young toddlers actually love that bar soap slips out of the hands so easily, and will do it over and over and over again on purpose.  As an adult, however, if you’re trying to move things along with some-teen other toddlers in the program to toilet who all need to wash their hands, this repetitious, deliberate soap dropping will drive you nuts. Plus it’s gross when soap falls on the floor.

I have also heard the tip to put chunks of bar soap inside of a handled tea strainer.   The child then holds the handle and rubs some soap on their hands that way.


Legend has it, the soap doesn’t get slippery and soggy in hand, nor is the child dropping the soap. This tip came from an AMI trained colleague in Mexico, though I have yet to personally test it out.

Also don’t ask me how Dr. Montessori knew this, but if you try to use liquid soap with your hand washing table, it won’t work correctly.  I thought to myself once that I should try including a bottle of liquid soap at the hand washing table so children could learn and practice how to dispense liquid soap from a pump bottle.  I don’t fully understand why, because I’m not a scientist, but if you try to use liquid soap at the hand washing table, it won’t rinse off of the hands.  If you use bar soap, it will always wash off cleanly after the hands are dipped into the basin of water. #oldschoolknowledge.

Liquid hand soaps in a pump bottle:  I have worked at schools that utilize liquid soap for hand washing at the sink.  Formats I have observed are standard liquid soap in standard pump bottles,  liquid soap in an inverted pump bottle (in a primary classroom though),  foam liquid soap its foam-producing bottle, and automatic foam soap dispensers.

For liquid soap, I like foam soap best if the children are going to use pumped liquid soap at all.   The foam is easy to see, and it gets all over their hands easily.  Even if you try your darnedest to use and practice the traditional sequence for hand washing at the sink per AMI training, the children will inevitably hastily put soap on their hands and immediately rinse it off without scrubbing very well.  It gives me peace of mind just knowing that at least with foam soap, the soap spread better before they hastily rinsed it off. If you want to mix your own foam soap and re-use a foaming soap dispenser, just water down liquid hand soap until it emerges from the pump dispenser foamy– 1:2 or 1:3 is a good ratio.  Does this dilute the germ-fighting power of the soap? I can’t say.  I just know it’s my go-to way to keep the foam soap pumping knowing my employer chooses standard liquid soap.

Bear in mind that children with a history of sensitive skin and eczema should NOT be using certain soaps that contain blends of essential oils.  Namely, On Guard soap by DoTerra.  One of my employers got obsessed with DoTerra essential oils and products because children were getting sick left and right.  I tried to advise the head of school that infants and toddlers ought not be exposed to certain kinds of essential oils; and I was adamant that she should only use those safe for toddlers when the school decided to implement oil diffusers in classrooms.  However, I then learned that On Guard hand soap is not ideal for people with eczema, or they should at least consult their physician prior to use.  Well a good portion of the kiddos in my classroom have documented eczema.  So I had to veto On Guard in my classroom as soon as I found out.  Just stick to plain soap, and you should be good to go.

A related tangent… at my current employer, they even had a foam-soap dispenser in the teacher’s bathroom, and no one seemed to know how to utilize it properly except for me, apparently.  Time and time again, I would come into the staff bathroom and the foam soap pump bottle would be filled with 100% undiluted liquid hand soap.  This would make the foam soap dispenser virtually impossible to pump because it isn’t designed to be used with traditional, thick liquid soap.  So I would secretly have to like, undermine everyone and water down the staff bathroom hand soap bottle every single time I used the bathroom until the soap eventually emerged from the bottle as foam 😂 .  I eventually got so fed up with the misused foam soap bottle in our staff bathroom that I took it upon myself to replace it with a standard soap bottle one day, LOL.   … back to the children’s soap….

I have also observed liquid hand soap in an inverted pump bottle that hung from the wall in a primary classroom.  This soap dispenser worked very well and I really liked it! But again, it worked for a primary community.   I’m currently working in A to I/ toddlers, and can’t personally vouch for the effectiveness of an inverted soap bottle with toddlers.

A drawback of all pump soap bottles is that they do break if dropped on the floor. You have to be sure to sanitize them daily along with all the other surfaces you have to sanitize, or at minimum, every time you refill the soap bottle.  They get really gross grime in them over time.  Trust me– you will see the grime when you open up the bottle to refill it.

The main consideration with liquid soap is that the pump can be virtually impossible for a child under two to use independently  because young toddlers have weaker hands.   You will have to stop whatever you are doing every time someone needs help and will have to pump the soap bottle for them.  To prevent this constant disruption, I offer the pump bottle AND a bar of soap at each sink.   I then tell the children “if you cannot pump the bottle independently yet, use the bar soap”.

Automatic soap dispensers.  I actually really liked the automatic soap dispenser, even though it seems paradoxically not very AMI.  It is hard to say what this would look like in an AMI toddler classroom, because the class in which I saw it installed was a AMS toddler classroom that only took children as two year olds. But the children were very good about only taking one pump, and it never required adults to help them get soap, ever.

Drawbacks are that the children don’t learn to develop hand strength, sequencing, maximum effort/control of muscle effort, cause-and-effect/ scientific transformation of soap mixed with water, or patience by utilizing pump bottle soap or a bar of soap.

The other drawback of the automatic dispenser that I didn’t see coming is that every adult needs to be trained for how to install a new soap refill; and on how to replace the battery when the battery runs out.  For a while no one knew how to replace the soap in the automatic dispenser except for the school owner.  This left us powerless to retrieve soap while I resorted to a good old fashioned pump bottle or bar of soap.   A third drawback is that the automatic soap dispensers are expen$ive; and so are the refills that go with them, I’m sure.  So if they break, it’s not a cheap replacement.

Bar soap for work activities:

I suggest you invest in soap savers (probably available at amazon.com, target, walmart, or for sure at whole foods). Otherwise that soap is gonna get reeeeeal soggy, real fast.

Know that during hand washing as an exercise, and for scrubbing a table, the children are going to inevitably put the bar soaps inside of the basin/ bucket… on purpose. Or they are going to pour water into the soap dishes… on purpose.  It’s just a thing toddlers feel compelled to do by their horme.

Don’t be surprised if the bar soaps end up everywhere they don’t belong.   Yes, the toddlers will take the soaps outside of the bathroom, and take them away from the work with which they belong.  I have tried drilling holes in the soap and tying them soap to the hand washing table to both keep them out of the wash basin (soap on a rope, Montessori style), and to try and force the soap to remain at the hand washing table.  This just created a really fun pendulum that the children enjoyed swinging around any time they got the chance.

Bars of soap will get misused– just accept the inevitable.  They get scraped up by the toddlers digging their nails into it while they try to scrape chunks off, for reasons beyond me.  That horme, I’m telling ya.   At least soap is getting under their dirty nails!

Bars of soap will get thrown away.  I even had a year where the bar soaps would get hidden by stuffing them inside the crack  of the paper towel dispensers!  For the life of me I couldn’t figure out where all the soaps were disappearing to for a few days– and then one day I went to refill the paper towel and all the soaps were stuffed up into the paper towel dispenser.  Leave it to a toddler to turn anything they can conceptualize into an imbucare opportunity.

Other tips on soap: Soaps that smell amazing make your classroom smell amazing.  I know everyone in my hippy town is paranoid about scented things and essential oils immediately like, killing people on contact.  But if you don’t mind smells like I don’t, and if would prefer that your classroom smell like flowers and relaxation instead of like a giant bathroom, get soaps that smell like lavender essential oil.  I recommend whole foods 365 brands, and I really like Mrs. Meyers Clean Day dish soap in Lavender scent.   Trader Joes also sells a good lavender chamomile soap.

Avoid antibacterial soap as your hand soap.  I’m convinced that this year, everyone is getting sick left and right not only because we have way too many unwell children who come to school sick, with mucous constantly dripping from their noses, and who constantly mouth everything, but because we are using antibacterial soap that my (young, untrained, never-a-teacher-in-her-life school director) keeps buying from Costco.    Since I have no control over what she chooses to buy (the school director basically dislikes a lot of my input and isn’t innovative or flexible), I personally choose to never ever use that soap on myself.   I always use non-antibacterial bar soap when I wash my hands, or…

For teachers, I would also recommend having an entire bottle of Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser  just for teachers that is kept upon a shelf the children can’t reach.  At first, I hated that cetaphil hand soap wouldn’t lather.  But then I realized my hands weren’t as insanely dry despite my need to wash my hands a million times a day.  I got used to the lack of lather.

I would also recommend having a bottle of hand lotion next to the teacher’s bottle or bar of hand soap.  I like to cover my hands with lotion, and put on gloves while sanitizing toys and surfaces every afternoon to give myself a daily DIY hand moisturizing treatment.

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