Is Montessori Really for Toddlers? How We Built our Toddler Curriculum
With traditional daycare programs, toddlers are cared for, kept safe, and given the opportunity to socialize. But even at this age, children have vast potential and can benefit from high-quality learning opportunities in school. Montessorians have known for decades that nurturing a child’s development to its fullest potential can make all the difference when it comes to acquiring fundamental skills and abilities and hitting developmental milestones on time (or early!)
A learning-based program that mixes fun and care with a well-supported educational approach can also do wonders for easing children into kindergarten. Instead of moving into a structured learning environment for the first time at age five, children who have been involved in active learning programs since they were toddlers transition easily and seamlessly into formal educational settings.
That’s why Montessori programs are the ideal choice for toddlers. They use proven methods that are responsive to the developmental needs of this age group
Why Montessori Is a Good Choice for Toddlers
What makes the Montessori method so effective is that it is designed in recognition of the sensitive periods every child goes through as part of their natural development. The sensitive periods are critical periods of development during which children can acquire certain abilities and learn certain things with more ease and facility than they ever will again.
There are four sensitive periods that play a big role in the toddler years, and these are the ones that a Montessori curriculum is designed to nurture.
- Movement: Walking; increased coordination and control over movements; fine motor skills and dexterity
- Small Object: Very attentive to small details; grasping tiny objects
- Language: Vocabulary explosion; discovering grammar; gradually building more complex sentences
- Order: Predictability and routine; noticing cause and effect relations; seeing how things are connected
In addition to these sensitive periods, the toddler years are also defined by independence. Toddlers love to explore, try new things, and imitate the activities they see around them. Infants might be frustrated when they can’t get what they want, but toddlers can get very frustrated when they can’t do things for themselves. This is also the age where “no” becomes a big part of many children’s vocabularies. All that independence can be challenging at times (both for toddlers and their caregivers) but it’s an important step to developing self-confidence, self-direction, and discovering their own personal preferences and passions.
Montessori Curriculum for Toddlers
We designed a curriculum that is responsive to the sensitive periods our toddler students are going through while also giving them plenty of opportunities to exercise their independence. Here are some of its core features.
Furniture and Materials Designed for Independent Use
One of the difficult things about being a toddler in a grown-up world is that even when they want to do things by themselves, they often can’t. The chairs are too big to climb into, the toys are out of reach, and the jackets are hung too high.
Montessori classrooms make everything accessible, even to toddlers. The furniture is the perfect size and height for them to sit in a chair, work at a table, or reach materials without having to ask for help.
The learning materials are also designed with them in mind. They’re easy to manipulate, they’re challenging enough to be educational but not so difficult that they require constant assistance, and they’re self-correcting (the child will know if they have succeeded at their task without having to wait for a teacher to tell them). This makes hands-on learning and play much more accessible.
A rigid lesson plan or overly structured activities can be really difficult for toddlers. Just when they’re getting engrossed in an activity, it gets taken away from them and they’re swept over to the next one.
Instead of imposing a constant stream of adult-directed activities on our students, we provide them with plenty of uninterrupted independent learning time. When one of the toddlers in our classroom is focused and immersed in some task, we do our best to leave them to it. That way, they get to do an activity of their own choosing and have the opportunity to fully develop the skills they’re working on.
This is also a way of encouraging our students to become life-long learners. Learning is a lot more fun when it’s an expression of curiosity and not an obligation.
Toddlers are endlessly fascinated by the world around them, and this is the age when children start to really develop their noticing skills. They’ll hone in on tiny details and start refining all of their senses. They’ll get better at discerning shades of color, tones and sounds, and tastes and textures.
These are the foundations for acquiring visual acuity, a great ear for music, and a good palate and we have many activities that encourage sensory development, including music, art, and food tasting.
Toddlers quickly acquire lots of new skills, and one of the most impressive is language. Vocabulary and verbal abilities are exploding. They go from single words to simple sentences and sounding out a few one-syllable words to being little dictionaries in a matter of months.
This is the perfect time to encourage language skills and acquisition. It lays the foundation for reading (most of our students learn to read by age four) and sets them up to become compelling communicators. In addition to giving them a language-rich environment, we also do daily work with our exclusive, proven phonetic sound cards to introduce our students to the fundamentals of the language.
Practical Life Activities
Encouraging our students to become independent and confident means giving them the opportunity to not only do things by themselves but to also take care of themselves and the things around them.
That’s why we build practical life activities into our curriculum. Our students learn to dress, help with the dishes, sweep and clean up, and do other activities they see grown-ups do throughout the day. This gives them the opportunity to do things they know have a meaningful outcome and that they can take a lot of pride in.
These practical life activities are also a great way to start developing a sense of responsibility.
Individualized Learning Plan
All of this is done at a pace that meets each individual child’s needs and matches the natural rhythm of their development. Instead of creating a generic learning plan for the classroom, each student is given the individualized attention they need when they need it.
After all, our goal is to nurture every child so they can achieve their fullest potential. And we can only do that by responding to each of their unique needs.
With the Montessori method, it’s never to soon to start learning. Giving toddlers a Montessori education is a great way to set them up for all that will come when they hit the preschool and kindergarten years.
It’s also a great way to foster a lasting love of learning and to equip them with some of the core abilities they’ll need throughout their lives, like reading and communication, confidence and self-direction.