According to numerous studies, children develop a socio-cognitive understanding of gender groups in the first 3 years of life and categorise themselves into one of those groups. (1) In this formative period, what should parents and educators do to support the child’s sense of equality? What role does gender equality play in the Montessori approach to education?
Dr. Maria Montessori (1870-1952) was a person who challenged gender boundaries in medicine, politics, and of course, education. She was one of the first specialised female doctors in Italy, lectured internationally for women’s rights, and advocated for social reform through the Montessori approach to education.
The Montessori method is an education for life, preparing the whole individual to coexist with others in a peaceful world. For this reason Dr. Montessori knew that it was important for girls and boys to be educated together as equals. It was just as important that the boys learn the “practical life” skills of food preparation and cleaning the floors as it was that the girls study mathematics and science. (4)
For all of the work Dr. Montessori did for education, women, children, disabled people, and science, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times!
gender-neutral elements of Montessori
Montessori materials are available to all children at any time for them to follow their own interests and learn.
The clothing children wear is chosen based on function, comfort, and protection rather than appearance or gender recognition.
Interactions between teacher and student are the same regardless of the child’s gender. It is the work of the Montessori teacher to make their own personal transformation into a being of love and knowledge so that they can create a secure place for children to learn, absorb, experience, and explore.
The responsibilities given to each child to be safe and courteous to others apply to all children, regardless of their gender.
Colours of the furniture, materials, clothing, and environment are not directed or intended for any specific gender.
Books found in a Montessori classroom would not reinforce any gender norms. If possible, they will actually challenge them.
We respect and accept each child, including their gender identity.
As soon as the gender of a child has been assigned, their social gender is often immediately assigned too: what colour their clothes will be, what kind of toys they will have at home, and what their future hobbies, careers, and relationships may look like. (2) How is the child’s life then based in equality if so many parts of it have already been decided, sometimes before they were even born?
“Until the adults consciously face their errors and correct them, they will find themselves in a forest of insoluble problems. And children becoming in their turn adult, will be victims of the same error, which they will transmit from generation to generation.”
— DR. MARIA MONTESSORI, THE CHILD IN THE FAMILY
*Social gender is the way one expresses their gender identity. It also includes the way a society perceives gender. Finally social gender includes the way society encourages conformity to gender norms through gender roles and expectations.
There is NO need for gendered baby clothing.
The only general requirements for children’s clothing are that it
is suitable for the climate
facilitates freedom of movement
encourages collaboration + independence
Dressing babies in feminine or masculine clothing based on their gender assignment enforces conformity to current gender norms and subjects the child to stereotyping. In a perfect world this would not happen. Clothing and accessories for children are not supposed to be a way of preventing them from being misgendered. Babies and toddlers have no masculine or feminine traits; they are all equal.
*note Gendered clothing for babies and toddlers, at least in the United States, was not popularised until the 1950’s when pink for girls and blue for boys became a gendered colour convention. Increasingly since the 1980’s babies and toddlers have been wearing outfits similar to adult clothing.
There is NO need for gendered baby toys.
Studies show that babies and toddlers do not distinguish between stereotypically feminine or masculine objects according to their own gender, but rather are interested in the toys which are familiar to them. (3)
Over the years I have had many male and female toddler students who are interested in woodworking, dressing up, cooking, caring for younger babies, running and jumping. All the assertions by parents you’ve ever heard such as, “she won’t like that because she’s a girl” or “he needs to do this because he’s a boy” or “boys/girls are so…” are unfounded and based on gender biases, stereotypes, and myths. Babies and toddlers have no masculine or feminine traits; they are all equal.
other blogposts about Montessori materials and activities for 0-3
Practical life work is the cornerstone of Montessori from 0 to 3. Caring for the environment and self-care is the greatest goal of the walking toddler. Now that they can carry themselves upright like adults, they want to achieve total functional independence. Their school can offer rich opportunities to reach functional independence because the entire classroom should be prepared to suit their needs. At school the teacher is observing them constantly and can change the environment for them. This means offering concrete practical experiences by which children can do purposeful work and have success in doing so. This is the work which will open the door to responsibility and self-awareness, and link the child to the world.
The activities are called ‘Exercises in Practical life’ because real everyday life is carried on in which all housework is entrusted to the little ones who execute, with devotion and accuracy, their domestic duties becoming singularly calm and dignified.”
— Dr. Maria Montessori. The Discovery of the Child. Ch. 3.
Das Kind Magazine
For the full version of this article (translated in German!) and other Montessori inspiration by the Deutsche Montessori Gesellschaft, you can sign up for biannual issues of “Das Kind” magazine for €20 a year.
In Montessori we refer to “normalisation” as the integration of intellect and movement. Especially for children who struggle to find peace and balance, through practical life they find opportunities to create order, repeat movements, explore the senses through manipulation, move freely, and imitate adults.
Movement is the secret for holding the attention of the child.”
— Dr. Maria Montessori, Creative Development in the Child I
Activities in practical life have a cycle of preparing the work, concentrating on the process, and satisfied rest once the work is complete.
GUIDELINES FOR PRACTICAL LIFE
Organise activities in the appropriate areas. Water materials should be near the water source; tooth brushing should be in the bathroom; and so on…
Each activity has its own place in the environment.
Everyactivity is complete. The presentation of the material should be logical so that the child can follow the use of the material easily. Have extra materials available in case something needs to be replaced.
The characteristics of the materials should be appropriate for the child. Weight, size, fragility, and other factors must be considered.
Make the materials beautiful.
Colour code the materials. Most of the materials should be matching. This is for the sake of beautiful presentation and to remind the child which materials go together. If an activity is not colour coded it does not need to be excluded from the environment.
Use points of interest.
Points of interest encourage the use and repetition of materials. This may include sensorial experiences such as making bubbles, fogging a mirror, or anything that is exciting and interesting for the child.
Only keep a limited number of materials. There are few materials of which we have many. For example, you may have several cutting knives so multiple children can cut together in the kitchen area. However, in principle there should be only one of each exercise. This teaches the child to wait for his turn and respect the work of others.
Check the activities often. Prepare the environment before the children arrive and constantly over the course of the day. Check every exercise to make sure that everything is clean and ready to use. If you find an abandoned mess, invite a child to help you. If no children clean up with you, clean it yourself with precision, in case a child might be observing you. If you don’t have time to clean at that moment, take the material out of the environment and finish cleaning it later.
Practice your presentation until it is done normally and beautifully before you present it to the children.
Observe the child and make changes you observe help them to have success.
HOW TO PRESENT PRACTICAL LIFE MATERIALS
Invite the child. Approach the child and model how to get someone’s attention respectfully. Give an enthusiastic invitation which is not a question, nor a command.
Go together with the child. Keep the child’s pace. You may offer your hand to the child and the child may accept it or not.
Involve the child. During the first presentation, do only the first half of the work and let the child finish it.
Analysis of movement Observe your own movements: how fast they are, how you stand, if you are blocking the child’s vision…
Language Give the child the names for things before presenting. This is done by isolating the noun or verb and avoiding moving while speaking. “sponge”
Be aware of your body posture. When you bend over, bend the knees and lean forward slightly. Remain standing. Don’t squat or kneel less the child could also squat or kneel.
Wear aprons The adult and the child both put on an apron when the activity calls for it.
Let the child take over the work. When the child shows they want to take over some work, let them take it over. As soon as a child loses their concentration on a new task, you should be nearby and ready to get involved. Sometimes letting child hold something or fetch something for you is enough to let them feel involved.
Clean up. As soon as you see a working child has lost concentration, you should get involved and give the clean-up presentation. Always encourage the child to clean up independently. If need be, you can go back over spills or fix small things in the material later. Children often forget or don’t clean up and need to be reminded to do it. This doesn’t mean that they don’t enjoy cleaning.
a photo tour of the practical life in our classroom
– WELCOME TO MONTESSORI CLASS! –
Get ready! The first thing toddlers do when they come into class is sit down, take off their shoes, put them in a “special place on the shelf”, hang up their jackets, and put on their indoor slippers. They feel so proud as they put their things away and get to work.
Cleaning shoes If they are very interested in shoes, there are also two shoe brushes fastened to the side of the shoe shelf where they can clean all their friends’ shoes and even the parents’ if they like.
Having a low source of running water is by far the greatest resource I feel that the environment offers toddlers. As soon as they are standing, they can stand in fascination for minutes letting the tiny stream of water fall over their fingertips and turning the spout on and off. The sink satisfies the sensitive period for water and gives the child access to all the water-based practical life activities. It allows them to explore and “play” with water, while having the responsibility and focus of purposeful work.
In the bathroom there is this beautifully and simply prepared area for potty learning where little ones can practically explore their interest in the potty and learn how to use it Montessori-style.
– WORKING IN THE KITCHEN –
Get a drink
When toddlers feel thirsty, they can go to the kitchen area and take a cup and pour themselves some water from a pitcher which comes out of a dispenser or prepare themselves fresh orange juice made from toddler-sized mandarins.
Prepare a snack
When the feel hungry they can go to the kitchen and prepare a snack for themselves. I always put out 2 food preparation activities at the child’s level, one group snack preparation activity (at my level to bring down and do with the children), orange juice squeezing work, and the water dispenser with just a minimal amount of water inside. As my trainer Patricia Wallner would say, “Never put out more water than you are willing to mop up.” 🙂 Food preparation activities include cutting bananas, cucumbers, or strawberries, peeling pears, peeling mandarins or hard-boiled eggs, plucking grapes, cracking peanuts, and spreading cream cheese on crackers.
Washing the dishes
Sometimes after eating or drinking a toddler may want to wash their dish or those of their classmates. I also put out 2 “dirty” metal plates each class with just a little bit of coffee grounds on top to give the opportunity to make a distinct dirty-then-clean connection.
PRESENTATION: The child fills the basins with water, squeezes/shakes in some liquid soap (90% water, 10% baby-safe dish soap). They carefully choose which single dish they would like to wash. Often, they enjoy using it to transfer water between basins – a beautiful discovery. After they have finished washing the dish, they set it to dry on the rack and pour out the basins into the bucket. They bring the bucket to their low sink and dump it out. After replacing the materials, they mop up any spills with a mop for the floor or a towel for anywhere else.
– CARE OF THE ENVIRONMENT –
Taking care of their environment is a toddler’s favourite activity because it is their way of connecting and having an impact on the world around them.
Washing the table
Presentation: When you or the child notice that a table is dirty, invite them to wash it. The child fills the pitcher of water and pours it into the basin. Replace the pitcher in the basket. Wheel the cart to the table which they would like to wash. Wet the brush and soap and rub the bar of soap into the brush. Show the child how to scrub the table and let them try. After the table is scrubbed replace the brush and take the sponge. Slowly wet the sponge and squeeze it out – invite the child to try. The child wipes the table. Show the child where to put the sponge. Use the mitt to dry the table. Invite the child to clean another table. When they are finished, dump the water from the basin to the bucket. Carry the bucket to dump it out. Replace the bucket. Push the cart back to its place.
Mopping The toddler’s fascination with mopping is truly beautiful. Once the floor was wet, and now it’s dry! One of the first signs I see when a baby is becoming a toddler, is that they start mopping! In the toddler class, the mop is almost constantly in use because toddlers often spill drops of water when they do practical life and are eager to mop up every drop.
It’s quite difficult for toddlers to sweep something up and dump it into the trash. They love concentrating on this work and doing their best. I also have a small vacuum they can use to clean up messes if they spill sand or soil.
Recently I added the duster to our cleaning area for dusting the walls and picture frames. Because brooms and mops can only be used on the floors, I found that the toddlers also needed something to clean the walls with and this was important to many of them. As Montessori guides we must observe the child’s needs and adapt the environment to meet them where they are at.
Feeding the fish Feeding the fish teaches respect for other life. It is also so relaxing to watch the fish swim around and can help the toddlers find calm.
Washing cloths Cloth washing is one of the most advanced practical life activities for toddlers who really need to exercise their concentration and do work involving lots of movement and multiple steps of varying difficulty.
AGE: from 2 years PRESENTATION:
Invite the child to put on an apron with you. Ask them to choose which cloth from the bucket they would like to wash. Put the cloth in the left basin. Invite the child to fill the pitcher and carry it to the basin. Fill the first basin and go back for more water to fill the second. After soaking the cloth with water, demonstrate how to lather the cloth with the soap bar and scrub it. Wring out the cloth and hang it on the clothesline. Both of you take a clothespin and secure the cloth. Invite the child to wash another cloth by themselves. When they are finished washing or lose concentration, begin the cleanup process. Put the bucket on the floor. Each of you pour a basin of water into the bucket. Let the child carry the bucket of water to the sink and empty it. Replace the bucket and use the mitt to dry the basins and table. Mop up any spills. Hang up the apron.
Washing windows This is material is a very popular material on the shelf. Toddlers love to go all around the school and spray the windows, glass doors, mirrors, and aquarium with this tiny spray bottle and watch the water slowly run down. They use a squeegee and a small towel mitt to wipe up the water. Older toddlers like to bring a step stool so they can clean even higher. It is one of the best materials for very active toddlers because it offers movement, water, and clear before + after results.
– SHARING CULTURE WITH TODDLERS –
The child has the potential to incarnate any human characteristic, language, religious/spiritual connection, and culture. Here are two practical life activities for sharing culture with toddlers.
This material allows the child to choose which art they would like to hang on the wall. In the basket there are various famous paintings, photographs and drawings by famous artists like Van Gough and Renoir.
Decorating a holiday tree
Over the holidays the toddlers really enjoyed decorating this real tree with baby-safe ornaments and bead strings.
– CARING FOR PLANTS –
Working in the garden
In the garden the toddlers really enjoy watering the flowerbeds, planting seeds, sweeping the deck, blowing bubbles, jumping on the trampoline, exploring the sandbox, and collecting the herbs and strawberries they grew.
Flower arranging In this sunny corner toddlers can water their plants and arrange fresh flowers into tiny vases. These flower arrangements adorn our table during the group snack time. Usually one toddler arranges all three and carefully places them side by side on the table with lace doilies underneath.
Plant watering work for babies It’s such a special experience when children are discovering plants, how to care for them, and thus how to respect other living things.
AGE: standing/12 months PRESENTATION: The first time I present this to a child I fill the watering can myself and invite them to watch me water the plant. I slowly pour half the water into the soil, using two hands. Then I set it down and invite the child to try. They will water the plant or possibly spill on the floor or try to drink the water. This is okay because they are learning! Use the sponge or towel to wipe up the spill. Invite the child to re-fill the pitcher of water. If the child is still not walking confidently, I fill the pitcher again for them with a very small amount of water from another pitcher which I keep at my level.
– LIFE SKILLS –
Toddlers love themselves deeply. In their self-care area children have access to several activities such as brushing + combing hair, wiping their nose with a tissue and tossing it in the waste basket, applying face cream (baby lotion), and trying on hats and sunglasses.
Sewing In our classroom an entire shelf is dedicated to threading and sewing activities arranged from the simplest to most challenging. Eventually the toddlers can embroider with a yarn needle – work which they tape off and get to take home with them.
Woodworking station Woodworking is a very special area of pride in our school. Humans have the natural tendency to use tools to do their work. Not surprisingly the presentations for these materials are very short, because toddlers as young as 12 months can use them intuitively.
IN PRACTICE: Each tool has its own pre-prepared block which fits into the table insert. This keeps the block stable, isolates the difficulty of the tool, and supports the sensitive period for order. Toddlers love to sit at this station and go through all the tools which are arranged from least to most difficult, bottom to top, right to left. The presentations are hammering nails, wearing goggles, unscrewing screws, cutting soft balsa wood strips with a saw, sanding, and drilling holes. There is a small broom and dustpan available for sweeping up sawdust.
– GROUP WORK –
Group snack After the toddler work cycle one or two toddlers volunteer to prepare the snack and dishes for everyone. They push the food and plates to in a cart over to the table and sit down together. I invite each child individually to join us at the table where they may serve themselves or each other food and water.
Wiping the table After snack the toddlers can help clean up by wiping the table with sponges and water, putting their dirty dishes back on the cart and bringing the cart to the kitchen. Usually the interested toddlers do this for the rest of the group.
Baking days In addition to preparing snack for each other, once per month we have a baking day when we make muffins or cookies and enjoy them together at the end of class.
Brewing tea AGE: from 2.5 years, or when the child uses scissors Brewing tea using the mint and lavender leaves from our garden is the closest experience available in my school to a farm-to-table experience. They carefully brew the tea for their friends and enjoy it together at the table.
– SAY “GOODBYE” –
After a long morning of hard work, we gather together and sing songs. Then we say ‘goodbye’ before toddlers and carers get ready to go home.
Thank you for joining me on this practical life tour through the Montessori Toddler Class! I hope you found it useful and interesting.
The home offers so many opportunities for developmental activities. In this blog post I have recommended different DIY activity ideas and my Amazon material recommendations listed by age. These are all materials that the children use in class which inspire concentration and teach new skills.
How to make your own Montessori mobiles: (free downloadable instructions)
The purpose of Montessori Mobiles is to stimulate sight, hearing, touch, and eye-hand coordination, and to enable the child to discover how he is able to interact with his environment and produce change within it.
You can use this guide to make your own naturally-moving Montessori mobiles out of simple crafting materials.
If you purchase the Montessori mobiles included in the MontiKids Level 1 Newborn Box, you can get 60,00 euros off with the code MONTESSORIMOTHER.
This is a favourite baby toy because it is so easy to see and to grasp onto. It also doesn’t roll away as quickly as perfectly round balls so it serves as an inspiration for crawling short distances. (€5,99)
“Montessori materials do not necessarily have to be purchased at a high price, not even for small children and especially not at home. Some things can also be made very quickly using very simple means, such as this box with a crocheted ball for squeezing into the box. So simple and yet a material that has a lot to offer.” ~ blogpost by Anna, Eltern Vom Mars
Babies love to work with pegs. First they take them out of their holes and eventually they are able to put them back and release using the pincer grasp. I love this material because it offers so many levels of difficulty and can grow with your baby gradually over 12 months. (€24,99)
The Montessori gluing box is a fun activity for toddlers which is about learn glue and a gluing brush. Older toddlers can also make detailed and colourful collages. Here is another DIY guide from Eltern vom Mars which includes a baby-safe recipe for glue.
This is one of the top favourite activities in the Montessori baby and toddler class. It gives the opportunity to practice grasping and drawing. They also train eye-hand coordination and concentration by pushing the metal beads down with their pointer finger. (€9,99)
Tips on the Montessori home environment for siblings
arrange the environment or play space so that both children can use it at the same time (for example, a movement mat for baby and a table and chair for your older child can be near each other so that they can learn from each other through observation)
instead of buying multiple versions of the same thing, teach siblings that if a material is in use, it’s unavailable. It it is not in use, it is available to either sibling
if one sibling wants something the other is using, teach them to trade for a reasonable alternative instead of just taking it
organise the shelf so that the materials on the lower part are intended for younger siblings, and materials on the top of the shelf are intended for the older siblings
keep any small parts in containers which only the older child can open. This is a safety precaution that allows your 3+ child to satisfy their need to work with tiny items and keeps your under 2 child safe
Book Recommendation: “Siblings without Rivalry” by Adele Faber
For a school to be considered Montessori, each class must have mixed age groups. Maria Montessori stressed the importance at least a 3 year age difference in a class (3-6, 6-9, and 9-12 years). In 0-3 we separate the classes from 2-16 months and 16 months to 3 years because the big changes the child goes through in the first years of life require differently prepared the environments.
why a mixed age group is the best way to support learning and growth
1. each child is in one area the teacher and in another, the learner
Mixed-age groups are the ideal platform for learning responsible behaviour and mutual respect. Everyone is at some point the smallest or the largest, sometimes the strong or the weak, the person seeking help, or the helper. In Montessori young children grow up caring for each other and nurturing their self-esteem, self-confidence, and respect and empathy for others.
In Montessori children can strengthen their knowledge by demonstrating or communicating it to others. Younger also seem to be most at ease when surrounded by older children and enjoy learning from them by observing them with silent fascination.
2. every child has room to grow at their own pace
Having all the materials within the age group available at the child’s level, allows them to advance onto the next challenge when they are ready. It also makes it possible for them to follow their interest and advance in their strongest areas, while still being able to enjoy learning in others which are more challenging. Because teachers do not have to set the instruction pace by a whole group, each child is given the ability to learn at his or her own pace in every aspect of their development.
3. it allows for cooperation over comparison
When there is an age difference, older and younger children are able to work together to achieve a goal and solve problems. When every child is expected to be at the same stage in their development, it opens the door for competition. No longer do we see each child’s individual skills and abilities, we see which child can do the same thing better and faster. Children will help each other when cleaning up after work, putting things away, caring for the environment, and caring for each other.
the big picture
This relationship of mutual care and respect, of self awareness, and awareness of the strengths and weaknesses of others make Montessori mixed-age classrooms the ideal place for learning peaceful conflict resolution.
The Montessori approach is an Education for Peace and mixed age groups is its cornerstone.
For our baking days this month the toddlers will bake lemon thumbprint cookies in pairs. The cookies turned out deliciously – I even baked an extra batch for the parents to enjoy! 🙂 In this blogpost I will walk you through how I prepare this baking workshop and share with you the vegan, gluten-free recipe that I used with my students. Enjoy!
Step 1: Prepare the trays
I had to practice the workshop a few times to make sure that the trays were set up for the toddlers to have maximum success during the workshop! The proportions also had to be perfect. In the end I used the recipe below divided into 5 portions to be baked by 10 toddlers working in pairs. Here’s how >>>
download recipe card:
(for 15 thumbprint cookies)
Step 2: Set out the mixing bowls and first trays
Two toddlers are sharing one mixing bowl and one tray of work. On each tray there are at least two tasks to make sure that every child has something to do during the whole workshop.
The reason I don’t give each toddler their own bowl and tray is because a – I like for them to work together on group cooking projects like these b – If one child is not interested and leaves their work, the other can continue c – Children of different ages can work together on tasks of varying difficulty
THIS TRAY INCLUDES: (in baking order + left to right)
Transferring the dried flowers (rose petals and lavender) using the pincer grasp
Transferring the sugar using a spoon
Pouring the lemon juice
Zesting the lemon using a cheese grater (grater from Joie)
Mixing it all together (wooden spoon from Ikea set)
Smelling the sweet, citrusy scent*
Step 3: Set out second trays
As the pairs finish mixing – in their own time- you can remove everything except the mixing bowl and wooden spoon. I set them up and bring them the next tray.
THIS TRAY INCLUDES: (in baking order + left to right)
Chopping the margarine using a toddler knife (from Tescoma or Joie)
Transferring the flour mixture using a spoon
Mashing the margarine (masher from Ikea set)
Step 4: Form cookies and arrange on baking trays
I bought a mini baking tray for each toddler so they could make their own cookie forms. This is done by rolling the dough into a ball, placing it on the baking sheet, and pressing the thumb down. After each child finished arranging their cookies, They placed them on a large tray and started washing up.
I pre-cut parchment paper for the mini baking sheets to save myself time with cleaning
If the cookies are too large or too thin they won’t all bake properly, so I had to re-shape a few of them before putting them into the oven
You MUST pre-heat the oven before putting the cookies in or the will spread
The cookies are finished baking when the tops are dry. If they start to brown on the edges they are burned.
Step 5: Cleanup
I prepared 2 basins with a small amount of warm water, 6 half sponges, 4 dry rags, and 2 broom and dustpan sets. The toddlers had just as much fun cleaning up as they did baking, maybe more. 🙂
Step 6: Decorating the cookies (optional)
For the Open Day Baking Workshop we decorated our cookies by spreading lemon frosting and sprinkling dried coconut. This was such a cute touch and the toddlers loved it. However since frosting is so sugary, this step is, of course, optional. The cookies are also delicious without frosting. 🙂 I have included the fluffly lemon frosting recipe below.
To decorate 30 thumbprint cookies – whip together the ingredients below and cool frosting in the refridgerator while baking.
2 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons softened margarine
10 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp applecider vinegar
Extra cookies were sent home in a paper cup and mini paper sack. 🙂