Supporting your Toddler’s Development through a Montessori Lens

The toddler brain is one that fascinates me both, as a teacher and a parent. You go from having a baby that is so dependent on you for everything – from eating to toileting, to having a little human who is into everything, determined to do things their own way and suddenly full of nonsensical words and wonderment within their world.

Often the day might start by not being able to leave the home before arguing about wearing a t-shirt and shorts in the middle of winter to chocolate not being a suitable breakfast food! Once you’re on the way to preschool, you often can’t walk two steps without having to stop to look at the worm on the side of the path or exploring the strange cracks in the sidewalk. A five-minute walk can turn into a half hour one when you’re going anywhere with your curious toddler.

I’m often asked by frazzled parents – “What happened to my compliant and easy-going baby and what can I do to help my toddler navigate their world?”

What we know is when secure and happy toddlers reach this critical time in their brain development, they are wanting to make sense of their world through independently increasing their skills in movement, emotional and social interactions with trusted others and communication.

In conversations with parents, I often offer them the following ideas to help them support their child through this important time in their development in the following ways.

Tip 1: Prepare-Prepare-Prepare 

The night before your child goes to bed, pull out two choices of appropriate clothing that your toddler could wear to Montessori the next day. This ensures that they feel empowered as they get to make a choice, and it also helps them know what’s coming the next day, building understanding and security in the routine. The same can happen for breakfast, offer them a choice, “Would you like toast with Marmite or Weetbix?”

Tip 2: Create time and be okay with things taking longer 

Create time so that they can be a part of the routine processes, putting on their own shirt, or buttering the toast or pouring the milk into their cereal. The more opportunities that they have to be involved in the process, the more that they’ll want to do the tasks that need to be done. This may mean getting up slightly earlier or starting your own day later. Your toddler is curious about the world and wants to be able to be a part of this. Understanding this and supporting them through this can be enriching not just for your child, but for you as a parent as you get to see the excitement and joy of mundane everyday things through the eyes of your toddler.

Tip 3: Use lots of rich language 

Your toddler will have a thirst for words. Using rich language to help them to navigate their feelings will be so beneficial as he/she gets to understand the world. When he/she is looking at an object, name them. Your toddler is in the most sensitive period for language acquisition so engaging in rich conversations and real-life stories, will open up the world for them and help him/her to make sense of it more and more.

A Montessori setting provides an environment that encourages children to be independent in every aspect of their life. At Grey Lynn Montessori, we support the development of our toddlers by offering a thoughtfully set up environment that is age specific and allows children to engage in practical life experiences, inspiring them to learn do for themselves.

Child sized brooms used for sweeping, napkins for lunch times and little jugs for pouring a drink, all allow our toddlers to gain confidence in not only their developing movement but also their ability to have some control and ownership in the big wide world. Our shelves invite toddlers to learn the names of objects in their environment, we have baskets that hold play fruit or vegetables or tools which they may see at home and for which they may not know the words. Children love to look at these, touch them and classify them with teachers who gently explain and explore them with them. The pace of the day allows lots of opportunities for toddlers to have time to explore and solve challenges. Parents are often amazed seeing these young learners, calmly exploring and engaging in learning.

Your toddler is an amazing little person, learning about their world like a sponge and absorbing all that’s offered to them. The more we can support them through this period in their development, the more we’re setting them up for lifelong learning and adventures. When we stop for a moment in our busy lives and actually see what’s happening for our toddlers, we get to be reminded how amazing the world actually is through their eyes.

Michela Homer, Grey Lynn Montessori Regional Manager – Bachelor of Education/AMI Montessori Diploma.