Washing dishes offers the opportunity to learn many functional skills, including positional concepts, sequencing, counting, fine and gross motor skills, communication skills, and basic cognitive concepts. In this sequence of photos, a boy in the Philippines does the washing up in his home in the Philippines.
Establish a predictable sequence for the child to follow during the routine. For example,
1. Gather the dirty dishes and place them on the counter to the left of the sink.
2. Fill the basin with warm water and place in sink.
3. Add soap to the basin.
4. Pick up a dish on the left and place in basin.
5. Take dishcloth and place in soapy water. Squeeze it out and wipe the dish/cup/utensil with the cloth. Repeat.
6. Rinse the dishes with clean warm water.
7. Place on drying rack.
8. Wipe the dishes with a dry, clean towel.
9. Arrange the dishes on the shelves, cabinet, drawers or wherever they are stored.
Washing dishes can help to reinforce basic concepts, such as big/little, in/out, up/down, wet/dry
It also helps to teach positional concepts, such as "above"/"below", "in front"/"in back", left/right.
Language and communication skills can be taught through washing up:
- Practice vocabulary and names of items and locations, e.g. water, soap, cup, bowl, spoon, sink, faucet, kitchen, counter, basin
- Talk about different materials and what each item is made of, such as metal, plastic, glass
- Discuss items that are breakable and how to care for them and handle them safely
This photo illustrates the importance of having the child at the correct height, where they can easily reach into the sink and participate fully in the activity. Some youth may not feel comfortable standing on a small stool, especially if they have balance or motor difficulties. If this is the case, try increasing the size of the platform and adding a handle or something for them to hold on to.
Have the child practice counting. Count how many clean cups, how many dirty cups. How many cups are already on the rack? If we add the two more that we just washed, how many will we have all together? Be creative in using this as a time to work on number skills.
Practice fine motor coordination by:
- holding an item with one hand, and wiping it with the other
- using pincer grasp to hold item or cloth
- squeezing water out of cloth
Gross motor coordination:
- pick up items and place them on counter or in basin
- open cabinet and lift item up to level of cabinet
- arrange in order on shelves
There are many more skills that can be taught through this activity. Be creative and share your ideas with us on this site!