Here’s a little secret: Preschoolers can pour their own drinks. It’s true! The children gain so much independence and self-confidence by learning this self-help skill. Autonomy is something children crave at this age, and this is certainly an activity they can do on their own when appropriate parameters are set.
First of all, I use a small pitcher that they can easily lift and control. I use these little, plastic, liquid measuring cups that I picked up at the Wally Mart, and have my little ones pour their own water at snack time. I love that these are see-through so the children can watch as they and others pour (and the fact that they are extremely cheap and readily available is nice too).
Secondly, I don’t fill the pitcher completely full. This way, they can move the pitcher without it immediately spilling. You may need more than one pitcher, with frequent refills, to accommodate your group, but it is well worth it! I also point out to the children that their cups only need to be filled half way (this minimizes spills), pointing out where half-way is on their glasses . Then I have them point it out as well . I let them know that there is more water than that in the pitcher (an embedded math lesson in fractions and volume), so they will have to watch as they pour. I always let them know that I am confident that they can do it!
To be sure, many children will quickly turn over the pitcher, pouring out the contents and overrunning their cups. You will have spills. But the spills will lessen dramatically as the children gain experience – experience pouring as well as experience taking care of their own spills. (Have towels handy!) I often have people comment, “You’re so brave.” When they see that I let the children do their own pouring. My response is usually, “It’s just water, it’s not going to hurt anything,” or “They can do it, they just need the opportunity to try.” Not only can they pour their own drinks, but they should. Pouring is a great hand-eye exercise. It is requires self-control in the form of motor control. It is self-correcting. You don’t have to tell a child whether or not she successfully poured her drink. Usually she can tell very quickly by whether or not she has a puddle dripping into her lap! Give them the means to clean up, and an opportunity to try again. You don’t have to get upset. This isn’t your water, it’s theirs. Let them own it!
I often chuckle at well-intentioned parent volunteers who quickly jump in and start pouring the water at snack time. I don’t usually have to remind them that the children do their own pouring. The children readily, and emphatically let them know they can do it themselves! The confidence and autonomy gained here is extremely beneficial for these children who developmentally crave these opportunities.
As a mother, I’ve found an added benefit to these small pitchers. My oldest son inherited his dad’s extremely low threshold for soggy cereal. Far too many mornings, I have poured his milk only to later pour his cereal down the sink, because it got soggy before he decided to eat it. Now, I pour milk into this small measuring cup and tell him to pour his own milk when he’s ready to be focused on eating his cereal. I won’t say we’ve never had a soggy cereal morning since, but we’ve had less, and I will say he is much more aware of his responsibility to eat the cereal promptly, now that he has some control in it as well.
You can extend pouring activities (which can also be extremely soothing, particularly when done in a repetitive fashion) into the sensory table, encouraging children to pour not only water but also dry materials (rice, beans, popcorn, etc.) either from a container back into the bin, or from container to container. Provide cups, bowls, scoops, and pitchers in the sensory table and the children will go to work!
So give your preschoolers the opportunity to pour. It’s a simple activity that will garner great rewards!