Children ages 13-40 months experience a critical period in their educational and emotional development. They have a great sensitivity for language, spatial relationships, music, art, and social graces. In the rich learning environment at West Side Montessori, toddler teachers carefully construct activities and experiences that capitalize on all of these developmental needs.
Montessori teachers also recognize toddlers need freedom within the security of limits and a place where they feel safe and loved so they may explore the classroom at their own pace and become independent. Activities are carefully sequenced from simple to complex so that each child can be successful.
Toddlers naturally want to imitate what they see adults doing. The Practical Life Area of the classroom allows children the opportunity to practice what they see in real life, therefore gaining the independence they so desire. Child-sized sinks allow the children to wash their own hands independently. For those children who show an interest, child-sized toilets encourage children to be as independent as possible when learning to use the toilet. Pouring water from one pitcher to another, tweezing pom-poms and scooping and spooning objects help children feel proud that they can do things for themselves as well as build fine motor control needed later for correct pencil grip.
Grace and courtesy may sound advanced but is an essential part of all Montessori activities and fits perfectly with the toddlers’ keen observation powers and desire to “help.” It is a cornerstone (closely linked with peace) of the Montessori philosophy. Lessons are given to each child in the environment on a daily basis. Grace and courtesy includes care of the environment such as sweeping, dusting, washing windows, using towels to tidy up spills, care of plants and care of classroom animals. Care of self includes such things as washing one’s own hands and face, catching a cough or sneeze in the crook of the arm, putting one’s own coat on, and dressing or undressing. These are big accomplishments for such a young child and it is evident on the child’s face as they are proud of what they can do independently!
The Sensorial Area offers children the opportunity to develop and refine their five senses. Children choose the sensorial materials because the materials fulfill their instinctive need to touch, taste, and feel the world around them. It is important for children to touch since they learn actively through this sense. What is rough? What is smooth? What is salty? What is sweet? Montessori materials such as the knobbed cylinders to discriminate size - width, depth and height, or matching sound cylinders by sound, help refine the child’s senses.
The Mathematics Area offers young children the opportunity to learn mathematical concepts at a young age. Real objects are used to demonstrate these ideas. One to one correspondence is the focus at this age. “Let’s count how many times you jump on the trampoline” or “How many spindles are in my hand?” The child and teacher count the spindles together. The child then takes the spindles in her hand to feel how large, or small, that quantity is. Then the child finds the corresponding number in the spindle box and carefully places the spindles in the box. This work allows the child to really see and feel how one is a much smaller number than ten. Holding ten spindles in a small hand can be quite a challenge. What a large number! Children also use sandpaper numerals with a teacher to trace the numeral giving the child the experience of forming the numeral as well as the name.
Toddlers experience an explosion of both receptive and expressive Language. The Montessori environment is rich in spoken and printed language to meet the child’s insatiable thirst for words. The youngest children are given words such as “more please” as well as the sign for the word using American Sign Language. This gives the child the ability to communicate with others while verbal language is developing. The book corner is a popular spot for the children and they love to be read to either by a teacher, an older child visiting from an upper level classroom, or even a classmate who is retelling the story in his own way. Objects can be found on the shelves for naming or matching. Letter sound booklets are available for the older toddlers to read independently or with a friend. They practice the sound each letter makes (rather than focusing on the name of the letter) and name pictures that begin with that sound. Children love to dictate their words to be recorded on their drawings. The language work is so enticing to children that they are naturally drawn to it.
The Art Area allows children to use their creativity. Blank pieces of paper are provided to encourage the children to explore. Children are offered many materials for multi-media creations. Using scissors to carefully cut thin strips of paper, gluing scraps of paper to a large sheet of paper, painting at the easel, and coloring with crayons, markers, or chalk are a few of the work choices that can be found in our toddler classrooms. Necklace lacing, bracelet threading, and making playdough from scratch are also popular activities.