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.
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.
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.