What should I be doing with my Toddler?

I see this time and again.  Young mothers with usually just one child, usually under 2 years of age, stressing out that they’re not doing enough and that their child isn’t concentrating long enough or isn’t interested in the Montessori materials.  First off, parents need to not confuse the preschool Montessori materials and curriculum with toddler activities.  Most Montessori materials are designed for ages 3 and up.  Can you use it with a 2 year old?  Sometimes, depending on the 2 year old.  But you can’t force it on them.  If they’re not ready or interested then all you can do is wait until they are.  Montessori is about the child leading.  You follow the child’s interests and stage, trusting that the child instinctively is drawn to what they need to learn and develop at the right time in their life.

So, what should you be doing with a toddler?  Well, you should be providing them with food, shelter, clothing and lots of love and affection.  Anything else is bonus.  Child will learn in spite of us, not because of us.  Your toddler doesn’t need tons of fancy toys or a room full of the best quality activities to learn.  They are learning every moment.  They are learning by watching you, they are learning by talking to you, they are learning by playing in the grass or snow, by climbing on the couch, by you reading them a story, your child is developing and learning every day.

Now you can help your child to discover more, you can foster interest in learning and independence, but you don’t have to wear yourself ragged by doing it.  If you’re feeling over-whelmed then you’re doing too much and you need to step back and just enjoy your child and these years.  There are some things you can do without draining yourself and the amount you do and how often is up to your family and your schedule.

First off is to read to your child.  Studies have shown that is the one activity that will give your child the greatest benefit.  Next, instill independence in your toddler.  Allow her to choose her own clothes.  Use stools so she can reach the sink to wash her hands.  Use a bed that she can get in and out of herself.  Make her toys accessible to her.  Have a low coat hook so she can hang up her own coat.  Let her put her own clothes in the hamper.  Things like that.  The next thing is to get him involved in what you do.  Both my child loved to sit in their high chair from when they were 5 months old in the kitchen and watch me cook and clean.  I’d give them some toys or some food to play with and would talk and interact with them.  Now I try to get my 2 year old to help in the kitchen as often as I can.  We have a vintage step-stool chair that she can climb up and sit at the counter.  When you’re cleaning, give him a small broom and pan or a spray bottle with water and teach him to clean too.  It may be a little more work now but before you know it they’ll be able to help you.  My toddler is able to put away the utensils from the dish washer.  Toddlers need lots of gross motor play.  They are still learning to balance and run and jump or even walk.  Montessori materials often require fine motor skills that your child is not yet ready for.  They find the materials hard and give up because they can’t do them and because they want to develop their gross motor skills right now.  Get outside as often as you can.  Have some gross motor activities inside too, such as riding toys, rocker board, or a tunnel.  I’m trying to find these in Canada as they’d be a great balancing and active toy.  If you have the space, bring an outdoor toy, such as a plastic slide, inside.  You can hang a climbing rope or swing from the ceiling.  This awesome playroom even has a rock climbing wall.  Your child also needs lots of free play to develop their imagination.  I like many Waldorf ideas.  Open ended, non-battery operated toys made of natural materials when possible are perfect for this.  Your child doesn’t need a ton of toys, just a few basic ones such as blocks and building toys, a doll, some kitchen toys, some car type toys and a few scarfs.  Let your child play and invent and be creative.  When you have time you can set up some life skills activities for your child such as pouring, spooning or scooping materials between containers.  You can introduce some sorting activities.  And the Knobbed cylinders are also good for 18 months+.  You don’t have to do them every day and have them themed for the season or change them out every week.  Do them when you have some time.  Also when you have some time do some sensory activities.  There are tons of ideas out there and they’re usually fun for mama too.  And crafts.  Crafts don’t have to be fancy at this age.  Children usually love to color.  At 2 you can try letting them learn to use scissor if they have the motor skills for it (using tongs helps them learn the open and closing motion).  Again, when you have time.   Dance with your child, sing songs, play games, tickle them, and don’t always jump in to help them, let them try to figure it out themselves and only help when they’re reaching the frustration point.

For infants, don’t confine them to playpen or exersaucers all the time.  Give them a safe area to roll around and explore.  And lots of time to interact with you.  When you have to confine them so you can get housework done, try to have them nearby where they can watch you.

I have found my daughter learns the most at random times.  Sitting on the toilet and playing “where’s your mouth/eye/head” she learned all her body parts in English and a bunch in French.  Seeing a sign in the store she learned letters.  And yes, she’s learned stuff from watching TV and playing with a Tablet.  Yes, I let my children watch some TV and play with electronics.  They’re part of our world and she sees me using them every day.

The great thing about Montessori is you provide the materials, show the child how to use them, and then let them work with them while you sit back and observe.  But if the child is not ready for them yet, or can’t focus for long, or isn’t interested, that’s ok.  It’ll come when he is ready.  And the great thing about home schooling is you don’t have to do it every day or for hours.  A toddler will most likely only stay focused for a short period.  Normalization isn’t to be expected until the preschool years, ages 3+.

I hope I’ve helped some mothers feel less guilty and to step back and enjoy their child rather than feeling they have to give them some perfect environment for them to develop.  It’s because we love our children so much that we want to give them everything.  But sometimes in doing that we loose sight of our children and become caught up in activities.  It’s overwhelming for us and for our children.  Yes, as your child gets older, if you plan to home school you’ll have to do more planning and activities with them.  But don’t rush it.  Don’t rush your child’s development.  Let them be who they are and learn at their own rate.  They’re only little for such a short time.

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