The Montessori Method is not about advancement, but often, parents are stuck for ideas as to how to incorporate a Montessori approach into their toddler’s environment and routine, and they turn to the Montessori Preschool (Primary) curriculum, which is intended for children 3 and up. Often, toddlers are capable of doing the “work” of early Primary lessons and it can seem puzzling to parents why others might encourage them to wait until their child is older when clearly, their child can handle it now.
But what we often see is a child who is (outwardly) mentally ready for certain aspects of the curriculum, but is not ready for some of the other challenges of the Montessori Method. They cannot sit through a lesson, they don’t want to use the materials as designed, or they are doing the work but not absorbing the concepts.
Toddlers are not meant to do Montessori Preschool — they are meant to be toddlers and do toddler activities. They need to be engaging their senses, moving their bodies (gross motor skills), and improving their communication and social skills. If I could change anything about how I approached the toddler years with Ella, I would have spent the time that I spent designing and giving lessons, providing more physical challenges and opportunities. My kid was dividing before she was catching a ball — I had things backwards.
Toddlers, generally, do not like to be challenged. They like the accomplishment of a task, but they are not developmentally ready for frustrations and disciplined concentration. They want to be “confirmed” in their abilities, and they are also just developing the ability to understand sequences, so remembering to do two steps for an activity is enough of a challenge without the activity itself being difficult. Activities that have room for error and are only slightly more difficult than a current “mastered” task are often good bets. (I.e., buttons might be too hard, but if they are already pulling on their shoes, try their socks. They might not be ready to pour into a cup, but they might be able to scoop.)
If a Montessori toddler resists an activity, it’s often an indication that they are just not ready for it yet, so putting it away and engaging in something a bit easier can make the day smoother. You can try a bit of encouragement, but if they are truly not interested, I would move on.
The shift toward desiring and enjoying challenging works occurs sometime between the second and forth years for most children, and you’ll see your child naturally approaching challenging activities and enjoying opportunities to learn new tasks of increasing difficulty. This is when it is most fruitful to encourage “hard work” and give lessons, and children will return to difficult tasks and materials to experiment further on their own.
What has been your experience encouraging and teaching toddlers?