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Removing Clothespins from a Basket

Sweet Pea is 24 months old.


From: This simple idea was inspired by the excellent book  Teach Me To Do It Myself by Maja Pitamic.  I found a slightly more detailed explanation at Shu-Chen Yen’s On-Line Monntessori Albums.  I decided that having Sweet Pea clip the clothespins to the basket was too difficult, so I set up the activity so she was only removing them.


  • A small basket or bowl with a rim that is thin enough to a clip clothespin to.
  • 5 or 10 easy-to-open clothespins.  Open and close them several times to weaken the springs if needed.


  • Clip the clothes pins to the rim of the basket.
  • Show your tot the basket and explain that they will need to be careful with the clothes pins and only use them on the basket.


  • Slowly demonstrate pinching a clothespin at the top, pulling it straight up and then setting it into the basket.  Repeat a couple of times, exaggerating the action of pulling the clothes pin straight up.
  • Give your child the basket and let them try.

Observations: Sweet Pea didn’t like this activity very much.  She had a really hard time lifting the clothespin vertically of off the basket.  She kept trying to pull it sideways, without really pinching it open and she didn’t seem have enough finger strength to keep the clothespin pinched for very long.  I had to keep reminding her to pinch and lift directly up to remove it from the basket.


After she understood what she was supposed to do, she was able to pinch a clothespin so it would open, and pull it off of the basket.  However more often than not,  it would twist out of her fingers and snap closed as soon as it was off of the basket.  A couple of times the clothes pin scraped her fingers as it snapped closed and she said, “hurt”.


Before she had even finished with all 10 clothes pins she looked up at me with an anxious expression, gave me the baby sign for finished and said, “Done! Done! Done!”   At that point, I quickly put everything away.  In retrospect, I maybe should have shut this activity down as soon as she indicated that she was getting hurt, but I was a little blinded by the goal of getting all 10 of the clothespins off of the basket.  Luckily Sweet Pea had enough insight to realize that she was way out of her depth.

Despite the fact that this was a complete disaster, I will maybe try again in another couple of months… maybe I should only use 5 clothespins next time.  🙂

Notes from the Trenches: You know your child’s strength and dexterity best, but I wouldn’t recomend this activity for a tot that is 2 years or younger.  I noticed another Montessori page recommended it for 2.5 years and up.

Always pay attention to what your tot is telling you, especially about getting injured.  🙂  If this activity is too hard for them, move on to something else before anyone gets hurt.

Rating: 2 stars (Easy, Frugal) * (Somehow 2 stars seems too high.  Does it really matter how easy or frugal an activity is, if it is totally inappropriate for my tot?)

3 comments to Removing Clothespins from a Basket

  • Wonderful lesson you learned this week.. on when to stop. I tried mini clothespins with my 24 month old yesterday and he had difficulty as well. Thanks for sharing.

  • I used a yogurt container (one of those large ones). They have thinner sides than your basket and so it was easier for Bear to pull off the clothes pins. I made a game using the clothes pins to reinforce her colors back in April. You can read about it here:

    You are so correct in saying that we have to listen to our children. They do need permission to stop an activity when they’ve had enough. At their age, the focus should be the experience (in this case, removing the clothespins), not the end product (getting them all off). It is a lesson I am reminded of constantly with Bear.

    Glad you found my sticker comment useful. 🙂

  • ML OMalley

    This is a GREAT activity for young hands, and promotes skills needed for pencil grasp too! As an Occupational Therapist, I offer these suggestions that may increase the success rate and reduce frustration for your children…

    1 move the task down to a coffeetable or other lower surface so child can get a better angle for grasping and lifting pin off the edge

    2. start with the lid of a shoebox or other sturdy box, then move to things with thicker edges such as your basket…thicker edge means more pinch strength required to open the pin fully

    3. a fun alternative is to use a box lid and make a “cage ” for dinosaurs, wild animals, etc.

    3. Try it with a sturdy paper plate, put stickers around the edge at intervals and let the child put on or take off clothespins at each sticker (make a fun “spider” at Halloween…)

    Happy pinching!

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