Toddlers: Guest Post Part 1

My guest blogger, Mariana, is a dear friend and my personal Montessori guru.  Last week I told you a little about her (which you can find here), and asked you to submit some questions you’d like answered.  We had a fantastic response and decided to tackle a big one first!  Although this question pertains to a toddler classroom, I found so many helpful tips in Mariana’s answer as a mother of a three year old.  As I read her response,  I heard myself saying, “ohhhhhhh” and “that makes so much sense now!”  So, whether you’re a Montessori teacher, a parent homeschooling your child or someone just trying to understand the way toddlers work, this post is for you.IMG_9812

I have a question regarding running a Montessori inspired toddler room. There are 10 toddlers and 2 teachers, sometimes only 1 when nappy changes, etc. need to be done, in the room. The children range in age from 14 months to 2 1/2 years. We would really appreciate some tips on setting up a room which meet the needs of all the children? We are unfortunately not in a position to have both indoor and outdoor environments open. 

Issues we are having (all very typical toddler behaviors!):

  • Younger toddlers throwing materials
  • Younger toddlers taking items off trays and walking around with them
  • Younger toddlers dumping trays/ baskets
  • Exceptionally short attention spans

We model respect for materials, how they are used and how they need to be returned to the shelf. The older children are responding really well to the environment but the younger children are less engaged and I feel we spend most of our time cleaning up after them. I would love some guidance on what else we could do to help make the session run more smoothly. We are trying to offer trays with fewer parts. How many trays do you feel should be available for this number of children? I am concerned we have too many and it is overwhelming. The most engaging activities at the moment are posting activities, books, and opening and closing containers. Do you have any other suggestions? Also do you think new trays should be presented as a small group presentation or is it best to keep presentations one on one in response to the child showing interest? I also like the idea of toddlers exploring materials for themselves without any presentations and hence making their own discoveries e.g. with the object permanence box. Really appreciate your thoughts and guidance!

Woohoo! A fellow Montessorian!  Congrats on having your own classroom environment and I hope my detailed answer helps.  It is important for you to recognize that all of these “issues” are part of your learning experience! The hardest part of all is seeing each day as a new day. Do your best to do that!

IMG_3918With that in mind, allow me to address some of these “issues” based on my experience.  First I must ask — Have you sat down to observe your classroom? How many times do you do it per week? How do you do your planning? How are you connecting each child to a material?  I ask myself these questions often because a lot of these behaviors can be redirected if the adults are truly observing, assessing and connecting the children to their environment.  Sit down and observe for two minutes and trust me, unless a child is getting hurt, they will be ok!

Regarding your concerns…. You are SO right! These are all typical behaviors and are wonderful (as crazy as it may sound).  What I gather from your question is that your children feel comfortable in your environment. They obviously feel nurtured and secure because they are exploring to learn more and more, and more!

Here are my recommendations:

  • If a material is being misused, most likely that child met the purpose and is past it developmentally. Take it out for a while and bring it back at some other time or guide that child to another material that will challenge her needs.
  • Younger toddlers taking items off trays and walking with them? Yes! That is great! They are exploring with it. Use that as part of your observation that way you can give a lesson on it later, give language, show how to carry it, show how to put it on a table and then back on the shelf. Try to see each of these “issues” as an opportunity to give a mini lesson.IMG_4736
  • Keep modeling how to use the materials, even if you have to return it to the shelf 10,000 times. They will eventually absorb it and put it back. Remember that at this age, we are building the foundation for concentration and focusing on the process rather than cleaning up of materials. The older children will get it, do it, and the young ones will eventually imitate.
  • You feel you are cleaning up too much. How long have you been in school? At the beginning, the adults model and clean up a lot! Eventually the children will do it.
  • If you are concerned that you have too many trays or lessons, follow that gut. Take some out. Add some more. Experiment!  After all, this is how the Montessori Method was created. Dr. Montessori observed and experimented until she found what worked best for that group of children.
  • As for lessons: I do some individually and others as a group. To be honest, multiple children are always following me around and observing my every move so I’m rarely on my own with another child!IMG_4921
  • My trainer told me that at this age, every material out is available for every child to touch and explore. This changes in a primary classroom because their freedom and limits are different.
  • Do you have manipulative exercises out?  Language cards?  Real objects?  Art materials? and PRACTICAL LIFE!!!!  They love that!!!  From cleaning, to washing a table, to cutting cheese, you name it!  The sky is the limit and the possibilities are endless.
  • Allow yourself to cut down your work period. It doesn’t have to be 1.5 hours or 2 hours. Remember, you are building up to that length of time and probably won’t have it from the get go.
  • Our environment doesn’t have an outdoor area and we try to make the best out of it.  Perhaps, you can share some pictures and we can exchange some ideas?!

Lastly, allow yourself to be flexible and HAVE FUN! Just because your training or a book said something, doesn’t mean it will happen that way.  Each child and group is different.  Your job as a trained adult is to observe the children, asses them, connect them with the material and environment, asses again, and reconnect if necessary. IMG_2115

I hope you got as much out of Mariana’s response as I did!  Working with toddlers is a special calling and I applaud you for your patience, understanding and commitment to making your environment a peaceful, safe and loving place for children.

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