Toddlers in a Montessori Classroom

In a Montessori environment, toddlers are defined as 18-36 month olds.  It is the second half of the infant period from 0 - 3 years old and it is the first time period that families may begin looking for occasional stimulation outside the home for their child--even if work doesn't require it. 

Yes, they need their moms (or their primary caretakers) for solid attachment and to meet their deepest emotional needs, but what other developmental needs do toddlers have?  

  • Language development explodes between 18 and 36 months.  From 12-18 months, infants are developing their first words, but still imitate adults with nonsense utterances.  Toddlers are wired to absorb words at incredible rates if they are exposed to a rich vocabulary. They begin to put multiple words together and then develop sentence grammar, using parts of speech and changing word order to fit intended meaning.  The richer their language environment is, the more language they will develop.  A Montessori toddler classroom provides a rich array of material for children to work on naming, singing, chanting, and pretend playing with new words.  A Montessori toddler teacher is trained to speak just slightly above their level so they are exposed to the next level of speech without being talked down to and without being overwhelmed.
  • Social exposure does not mean the same thing for a toddler that it does for a child after three years old.  Children under three don't need friendships yet.  They play parallel to their peers, with an occasional interaction if they are forced to share or trade toys. However many toddlers still have a social need to be around others.  Being in an environment outside their homes, where they begin to learn a different code of conduct and are stimulated by new experiences (toys, games, songs, walks) can be very enriching and calm the moods of many children who grow crotchety when they are living a quiet life with only their caretaker.  Such exposure develops flexibility and versatility in children who may be too happy to always be at home in their comfort zones.  
  • Independence is not something that many parents think of as a key goal for their child--in fact we usually love the sweetness of their dependence. However it is the ultimate goal of our parenting, and is intrinsically linked to their self confidence, self efficacy, and later developmental skills.  In fact, it is the key player in the infamous "terrible two's" that hit during the toddler years.  The terrible two's can be a wonderful time of encouraging your child's autonomy as they develop their first taste of identity, a journey they will complete during their adolescent years. Balancing independence, motor skills, and language can actually minimize the 'terrible-ness' of the second and third years.
  • Fine motor skills are almost an endangered skill for a young child in modern life.  Between safety concerns and technological advances, toddlers have fewer chances to use their fingers to do small things.  This in turn creates issues and delays with writing and independence, and creates obstacles for success in other subjects where manipulatives might be used.  More children are in occupational therapy than ever before, but if we just let them work hard to pick up their raisins and their pebbles, and encourage play with toys that don't do everything for them, their natural interests will develop their fine motor skills satisfactorily.  A Montessori environmnet offers a wide array of small motor activities-puzzles and lids and clasps, all within a structure that gradually advances the child's skills.  
  • Gross motor skills happen pretty naturally in most homes.  Toddlers are (by definition) walking, and gain more control over their bodies every day.  They need to develop skills that assist their growing desire to be autonomous (or their frustration levels grow) and they need to develop the ability to accomplish more subtle milestones like alternating right and left, crossing the midline of their body, balancing, and navigating space (eye-body coordination).  The better their gross motor, the more it can be taken for granted as they get older--which is good!  When it remains inconsistent, the child can stand out when they start school, create unintended disruptions, and face increased discipline in traditional school environments.

Click here to see more about the toddler years and beyond!