Toddlerhood can be such a sweet time bursting with learning. From ages 1 to 3, many toddlers start running, jumping, and communicating with words. Toddlerhood is also a time when the Montessori method can help kids thrive. The Montessori Method is an educational framework developed by Maria Montessori in the 19th century that values curiosity, independence, and focus in children. Implementing Montessori principles in your home can empower your toddler with valuable skills, build their self-esteem, and celebrate their unique interests.
Montessori at Home for Toddlers: Practical Life Skills
The Montessori method emphasizes teaching children practical life skills, which are skills used throughout everyday life. These are skills like independent dressing, washing hands, cleaning up messes, and cooking. Toddlers may not be ready to tackle these tasks in full. However, toddlers are often capable of doing small parts of these activities. Toddlers can also enjoy learning practical skills.
My Best Tips for Practical Life with Toddlers
I approached teaching my toddlers practical skills by breaking down tasks into small components and teaching them one small piece of a larger task at a time. Instead of asking them to clean up the living room, for example, I asked them to place their shoes by the door. I’d explain that this is important because we’ll be able to find our shoes when it’s time to leave. I also tried to invite my toddlers into the kitchen for food-related tasks. I make homemade cinnamon rolls sometimes on weekend mornings, and my toddlers learned how to sprinkle the rolled-out dough with cinnamon and sugar. They enjoyed contributing and became a little more comfortable with the task each time.
The outdoors provided other great opportunities to enlist my toddlers’ help. We love being outside, and outdoor tasks commonly have room for error. At the peak of summer, when I spend time weeding the garden, I requested their help in placing the picked weeds in the yard waste container. I also taught them how to water plants and pick ripe cherry tomatoes. In the fall, they would help bag the fallen leaves in our yard. The vast majority of the time, my toddlers enjoyed helping. Sometimes, they would wander away and find something else to do. Knowing their attention spans are limited, I was totally fine with that.
We enjoyed spending time together through these activities. I loved getting a little of my own work done and also knew my toddlers were learning valuable skills. As my toddlers have grown into young children, I have continued to teach them a little more over time, and they continue to impress me with their capabilities.
The Benefits of Practical Life Work
The Montessori approach to practical skills fosters independence and responsibility, values that help children throughout their lives. I have seen how practical life skills have given my children confidence and shown them their own capabilities. Often, toddlers love being involved with the tasks of everyday life. I encourage parents to look for relatively small ways that toddlers can contribute to practical tasks and build on these skills gradually. The Montessori By Mom Helping Hands Toolbox is an easy, stress-free introduction to practical life work with toddlers. Cultivating an interest in taking care of ourselves and our environment lays a strong foundation for mastering practical skills as toddlers grow into young children and beyond.
How ‘Following the Child’ Empowers Toddlers
Montessori at home for toddlers emphasizes the principle of “following the child.” Following the child includes intentionally observing children and giving them the freedom and autonomy to follow their interests. Instead of guiding children through their play or learning, this approach lets toddlers explore within limits and boundaries. Maria Montessori said, “Follow the child, they will show you what they need to do, what they need to develop in themselves and what area they need to be challenged in.”
What Does ‘Following the Child’ Look Like in Real Life?
Toddlers are learning an immense number of new skills. Observing the activities and pursuits your children are drawn to can help you follow their lead. My own twin toddlers were drawn to very different activities, highlighting the unique people they are. My daughter has loved painting and drawing since toddlerhood. Following this interest as a toddler developed her fine motor skills. It has also built her self-assuredness and, over time, contributed to our family culture of lifelong learning and creating. As a toddler, my son had a real interest in dinosaurs. We helped him pursue this interest by reading books about the topic and gifting him a set of true-to-life dinosaur models. By following our toddlers’ interests, we hoped to spark a love of learning and an understanding of how to learn.
Why Limits Are Necessary, Too
Of course, following the child necessitates boundaries. We love to see our daughter paint and draw, but we set the limit that painting and drawing are only for paper. Painting is also very messy, and we don’t have the bandwidth to monitor this activity at any hour of the day. Another limitation in our family is that an adult must be present to help with painting. What works for each family and each toddler is going to be different. However, I have seen that even a little bit of emphasis on the things a child loves can light them up and create new opportunities for learning and growth.
My Experience With Montessori at Home for Toddlers
In my experience, parenting toddlers is equal parts wonderful and challenging. My toddlers’ short attention spans and sparse understanding of risks kept me very busy. Yet, their ability to learn and grow absolutely amazed me.
I have found that there are several benefits of the Montessori method for both parents and children. Teaching them practical skills builds competence and confidence, and following their interests sparks curiosity and builds an innate love of learning. These aren’t benefits that are necessarily seen in one afternoon or even one month, but they can appear slowly over time. In our home, the Montessori approach to toddlerhood was an intentional, meaningful way to spend time with our toddlers.
I encourage parents to look for small ways to try the Montessori approach with toddlers. Breaking down practical tasks like gardening and cleaning up into very small tasks that toddlers can help with is one way to start. Another way is to spend a little time following the child, paying attention to their interests and challenges. Through even small changes, Montessori at home for toddlers can have a positive impact. Montessori by Mom also assembled a list of The Best Montessori Resources of 2022 that have a wealth of knowledge for bringing Montessori into your home.
Kelly Marie is a former scientist and mother of three young kids. She enjoys writing about her experiences in parenting and regularly creates free printable resources for parents and teachers for her blog Hey Kelly Marie. She currently lives in Kentucky with her family.