Letting your Toddler Be

I see this so often and fell into this trap myself.  People new to Montessori and excited giving their under 2 year old materials and then getting frustrated that their toddler won’t play with them or wants to throw them.  “My 9 month old won’t sit for more than 10 seconds and I can’t get her to do any of the activities I put out”.  “My 20 month old only wants to pull everything off the shelves and throw it”. What seems to be forgotten over and over again, the very core of Montessori – “Follow the Child“.

Your child intrinsically will learn what he needs to learn at the time he’s ready to learn it.  This is especially true when it comes to babies and toddlers.  With or without a pull up bar you child will learn to stand.  With or without a push toy he will learn to walk.  But each child will do this within his own time frame.  When it comes to Montessori for toddlers, just let them be.

It’s frustrating, I know, to have a beautiful room set up with lovely materials and your child only wants to run and throw everything.  Or to see blog posts with children the same age doing all these activities.  There isn’t something wrong with your child.  There’s something wrong with your expectations.  If you child wants to throw everything, then they’re at a sensitive period for throwing.  This is great, give her bean bags and balls to throw.  If you child wants to dump everything, great!  She’s at a sensitive period for dumping, give her things to dump.  If your son wants to climb the shelves or wont sit still, he’s at a sensitive period for gross motor skills, try a trampoline or a slide inside or a balance beam or mats to tumble on and lots and lots of outdoor play.  Your child keeps getting in the way while you clean, give her a broom or cloth.  You don’t do presentations with toddlers.  You can play with some of the toys and have them watch you, or better yet, have an older child play with them, but there is no need to try to get your child to sort objects by colour.  When he is ready, he will.  Like my son who was playing with the counting bears.  I looked over and he had sorted them by colour, all on his own.

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We have a fancy shape sorting toy with lots of shapes.  One day I realized my son could do it, without any help or teaching from me.  I never taught him to do puzzles, he just did them.  When your child is ready for pouring, you won’t need to make them do it, they just will, over and over again.  If your child is ready for the knobbed cylinders, they’ll do them, and do them again and again.  If they are resisting, then they’re not ready.

Pressuring a toddler to do an activity when they’re not interested and introducing primary materials too early can be detrimental.  It can turn the child off the material so that when they are at a sensitive period for it, they won’t want to do it.  Remember their absorbent mind will absorb their feelings about that material.  Or they may be bored with it because they’ve played with the materials and it doesn’t have the appeal of being new and will resist presentations with it in the primary years.  Sometimes we don’t realized we’re pressuring.  I didn’t at first.  If you’re feeling frustrated, then let it go.  Put it away and just watch your child play.  Try to see where your child is really at.

A toddler doesn’t need expensive materials.  He needs to run, to climb, to play outside, to help you while you do housework, to play in the bath, to look at books, to throw balls and ride on cars.  My son’s favourite fine motor material came from the dollar store, the spice shaker with dowels.  Keep in mind when you see a blog post with a toddler doing an activity, majority of the time it only lasts for 5 mins, if that.  Toddlers work in little burst of energy but they rarely last long.

I did way more “teaching” with my daughter and not much with my son and he’s coming along even quicker than her, because he wants to be like the big kids.  Though he started talking later than her his vocabulary seems to be coming along faster than hers.  He’s always copying the older kids.  Today he came stomping over “uuuunt, uuuunt, uuunt” just like the older kids do when they’re mad.  It was so funny coming from a 21 month old.  If you can get your toddler to play with multi-age groups of children, that will really benefit their development.

Another thing to remember: too many activities, too much colour and things going on is very overwhelming for a child.  It’s best to have only a few things out for them, things for the sensitive period they are at.  Keep the room tidy and minimal and simple.  This of course is harder if you have several ages of children, just do your best to keep the room organized.

A final issue I see often and have realized in myself is the idea that fine motor activities are better or more important than gross motor.  You child needs to master gross motor movement, to be in control of their core, before they can master fine motor movement.  Don’t dismiss the importance of running, of climbing stairs, of playing outside, of jumping and throwing and kicking.  These skills are very, very important.  If you want you child to develop their fine motor skills and increase their attention span, then give them opportunity to exercise their gross motor skills.

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In the end though, it’s not about having your child ahead of other children.  It’s not about proving how wonderful Montessori is by showing what your child can do.  It’s not about having your child do what you see other children doing in blogs or boards.  It’s not about all the beautiful materials.  It’s about your child, about them being allowed to be and explore at their own pace, in their own way.  Trust your child.  Let him be.

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.