Introduction: DIY Montessori Dressing Frames for Practical Life Skills

About: Like to solve everyday life little problems. I'm curious about things I don't know much. Like to do things that require and allow creativity.

In 2018, I won the biggest lottery of my life. That is, my son was drawn by lottery to take one of the two openings of Montessori school in the district on public basis.

Upon first visit of the classroom, I was impressed by the didactic materials and classroom environment. I thought we were lucky to have the best teacher in the world, it's all her ideas. Before the visit, I knew almost nothing of the Montessori Method except the name. So my son was not raised in accordance to the Montessori education philosophy or approach up until then. For example, like many others, we dressed our son, doing things like button his shirt, zip his coat and tie his laces so that life seems to go faster and easier. This is exactly the opposite of the Montessori Method.

In the Montessori method, Dr. Montessori created a series of dressing frames, which she called the fastening games for children to practice practical life skills. Through the use of such toys, the children can practically analyse the movements necessary in dressing and undressing themselves, and can prepare themselves separately for these movements by means of repeated exercise. Thus, parents or teachers can succeed in teaching the child to dress himself without his really being aware of it, that is, without any direct or arbitrary command he is lead to his mastery.

Dr. Montessori started her work with deficient children. The difference is plainly seen from the fact that the same materials, such as dressing frames, used with deficient children makes education possible, while with normal children it provokes auto-education.

Provoking children's auto-education is a huge part in the Montessori education and the difference from common parents' and others' practices which give direct commands or do the movements for the children. It is quite common once children pass the stage of learning certain skills, they have neither mastered the skills, nor have they any interest to learn them anymore. This is a confirmed tough truth I knew from raising my first child and also from the famous wild boy found near Aveyron. Every time when I think of my being ignorant of the scientific pedagogy of The Montessori Method up until now, and the areas of my first child's formation that could be better, I felt regret, to say the least. However, there is no medicine for regret. I decided to read more about it and try to practice more of it in my remaining parenting-educating life. So far, I have read three books on the topic. I'm listening to the fourth book. And I compiled a list of 12 books plus one DVD to awake the Montessori educator potential in every parent.

For Montessori dressing frames, as far as I know, there are 12 frames. There are usually kept standing in wooden box stand or in a wooden shelf stand. They are quite expensive. In this Instructable, I show how to make six of the most common dressing frames using used toddler clothes. And I decided to hang them on a wall at the height of 3- to 4- year old in his activity center. If you have a two or three years old child, it's perfect time to make these toys for them. Hope this Instructable will come in handy as reference.

Materials and Tools Used:

  • 6 Toddler shirts ( preferably one button shirt, one zipper shirt, one snap shirt, thus the job to install these fasteners is eliminated in later steps.)
  • 1 Piece of long lace or 1 piece of yarn and 2 pieces of 1" packing tape to tape the ends of the yarn
  • 2 10 feet long 1/2" PVC pipe or 5/8" wooden dwell
  • 24" long 1/2" wooden dwell, cut into 6 of 4" long each

Below are the steps.

Note: This article may contain affiliate links as references for the same or similar products used in this project. If you click on the links and make purchases I could receive a small percentage of commission from the advertising company with no extra cost to you.

Step 1: Collect 6 Used Toddler Shirts

Preferably one button shirt, one zipper shirt, one snap shirt, thus the job to install these fasteners is eliminated in later steps.

Step 2: Deal With the Sleeves

If you or your child is okay with destruction of the shirt, turn the shirt inside out, serge along the side seams to the top of shoulder to form a box shape, shown in picture 1 and 2.

Next, insert a darning needle with large eye through the serge stitches, thread the thread tail into the eye, pull the thread tail through and under the serge stitches, remove the extra thread, shown in pictures 3 - 6. This is done to avoid raveling of the serge stitches if cut at the exact stitching end.

If you don't have a serge machine, use a sewing machine with zigzag stitch or use fray check on the seams.

If you or your child is not ready to part with the shirt irreversibly, then don't destruct the shirt. For the blue zipper hoodie shirt, I folded the hood to the back and pin in place to the back only, folded the sleeves to the back and pin in place to the back only, and then stitched them in place using the longest stitch length (for easier undoing of the stitches later for any reason to reverse the shirt to wearable condition), shown in pictures 7 - 10.

The last picture, picture 11 shows all the shirts with the sleeves dealt with.

Step 3: Prepare the Front

First, use a seam ripper to undo the stitches of the front flaps to the point started on the one piece front.

Then fold the shirt to find the front center.

Cut open along the front center line.

Cut two strips of fabric to the width of twice the front flaps plus seam allowance, and the height of the missing front flaps plus seam allowance.

With right side together, stitch the left side strip to the left front.

Fold it in and top stitch catching the under layer.

With the wrong side of the fabric strip to the right side of the shirt front, I used flatlock stitch on my serger machine to stitch the fabric strip to the right side of shirt front to match the original stitch on the right side of the shirt flap.

Fold it in and top stitch catching the under layer.

Preparing the front for three other shirts is almost the same. So I repeated the above steps on other three shirts.

Step 4: Install Fasteners: Snap

I used snaps and snap tool that are in one package and a rubber head hammer, followed the instruction on the package and installed 4 more snaps to the shirt that already has three at the top.

Step 5: Install Fasteners: Eyelets for Lacing

Place eyelets on the shirts to measure how many and the positions of the eyelets, picture 1.

Mark each spot with a self disappearing pen, picture 2.

Fold the fabric at each spot to a point, picture 3.

Snip the point to make a tiny hole on the fabric, picture 4.

Insert the eyelet through the tiny hole, picture 5.

Use eyelet tool to install the eyelet in place, picture 6.

Repeat step 5 and 6 until all eyelets are installed, picture 7.

Use one long piece of lace or 1 piece of yarn and 2 pieces of 1" packing tape to tape the ends of the yarn to lace up the shirt, picture 8.

Step 6: Install Fasteners: Ribbons for Tying

With the shirt for tying frame and 1 spool of 3/8" red ribbon, 1 spool of 3/8" blue ribbon, picture 1.

Cut 6 pieces (yours could be a different number) of 14" red ribbons, and 6 pieces of 14" blue ribbons, picture 2.

Light a birthday candle, burn the two ends of each ribbon piece to prevent fray, picture 3.

Sew or snap each ribbon piece to its place, with red on one side and blue on the other side. I have a snap machine by me where I was cutting the ribbon, so I decided to use the snap machine to install the ribbons, picture 4.

When done, tie each ribbon into a bow, picture 5 and 6.

Step 7: Install Fasteners: Buckles

Measure up how many buckles and the buckle positions.

Use needle for leather, hand sew or machine sew the buckles in place. Unfortunately, the fake leather doesn't work on my sewing machine pressure foot, so I ended up hand sewing. If you have to hand sew, use hand sewing finger tip protector, it's not fun to be pierced by the needle on your finger tip, picture 1.

When done, it's like in picture 2.

Step 8: Make the Frame

Cut 2 pieces of 1/2" PVC pipe to the length of the two vertical sides of the frame, picture 1.

Insert them in place, mark the stitch line to make case for them, picture 2.

Stitch along the mark, when done, insert the two sides into their cases, picture 3.

Attach 2 1/2" copper 90 degrees elbows to the two ends, picture 4.

Cut 2 pieces of 1/2" PVC pipe to the length of the top and bottom side of the frame, insert the bottom side to the frame, picture 5.

Step 9: Make the Hanger

Cut 1 piece of 4" wooden dwell, place it to the center of the top side for the frame, mark the center and the two ends of the wooden dwell on the top side for the frame, mark the distance from the end of the PVC pipe to the end of the wooden dwell on a thin stick or chopstick, picture 1.

Push the 4 wooden dwell inside and to the center of the PVC pipe for the top of the frame until the mark on the thin stick aligns with the end of the PVC pipe, picture 2.

Drill a hole in the center of the PVC pipe for the top of the frame with the drill and driver with 3/32" drill bit, to the depth of the nail at the end of the hanger hook, picture 3 and 4.

Screw the hook to the hole, picture 5.

Insert the top side of the frame with the hanger hook to the frame, picture 6.

Hooray! One frame is done. Repeat the above steps to make the remaining frames and hangers.

P.S. For the hanger hook, if I make dressing frames with hanger hook again, I will use the white vinyl coated 1 1/2" screw in hook which is available online or in store, picture 7. When I made these dressing frames, it was the middle of the night. There was nowhere to buy anything. I eyed the clothes hanger with metal hook from the store we buy clothes from, picture 8. I used a wire cutter which says "CUT COPPER ONLY" to remove the melted plastic around the hook to release it, picture 9. In the end it worked. It was some work. I still think the white vinyl coated 1 1/2" cup hook will work better and involves less work.

Step 10: Hang the Frames

To hang the frames in my child's activity area, I used 6 COMMAND damage free hook for 2 lb things, picture 1.

Attach the hooks to a wall at the height of my child according to the instruction on the package, picture 2.

When done and the drying time is over according to the instruction on the package, hang the frames up, picture 3 and 4.

Step 11: Present the Dressing Frames

The Montessori Method has specific rules for presenting dressing frames to a child, such as slow and clear hand movement, no talking. And then one can invite the child to play it alone with the dressing frame and as long as he or she wants to. This is actually hard. After I train myself many times, here is how I present the tying frame. It's long and tedious to watch. But it's fun to present. Enjoy!

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