In this post I am sharing some of the favorite things in our classroom at Montessori Mother ELC, including 5 practical supplies and 5 Montessori materials. I may have been inspired by Oprah’s favorite things, but decided on just ten. 🙂 Some of these links are affiliated with Amazon, but they won’t cost you any extra. They are all links to products I have purchased myself for the school.
– practical items –
This tiny 12pc set of very REAL silverware is what we use when we introduce solid foods to Baby and also what we use with the toddlers until 3. They are the perfect size proportionally for their little hands. The forks and knives are not sharp at all. The sorting tray is a great addition, but you need to paint it with some lacquer or oil to make it washable.
This is the little potty we have at the school which is very low and easy to use for the little ones. It’s also very easy to clean and has a lid that the child enjoys opening and closing. My favorite part is that is doesn’t do anything. It’s simple and functional and looks like an adult toilet.
At the easel I only give one or two colors of paint at a time. The matching cup and brush help the child to know where to put the brush after painting, how to keep the colors separate, and keep the space clean.
The matching mops are made by Obi and can be shortened to child-size. The broom set is available in blue, green, or pink. It’s best to have a child-sized version of the cleaning utensils you already use at home so that you and the child can clean up together. All these are hung with metal hooks secured in the wall.
If you save coins when you travel you might already have some large coins to give to your little one to work with. This box is a treasured material in the toddler classroom. I keep large coins (old Deutsche marks) in a basket to the side and have attached the key to the handle with a ribbon so it won’t be lost.
This is by far one of the most frequented materials in the classroom. The toddlers use it every day. In class I also keep the pegs and rubber bands separated in plastic containers (found at Rossmann) so no younger babies put the little pieces in their mouths.
This is one of the first materials we introduce for counting. You can present it with the beads to the side in a tray or basket. Through experience with this material, the child understands quantity. They learn the numbers through experience with you in the environment.
Here is a discounted version of the Montessori spindle material I found. This should be introduced when your little one can already recognise number symbols. Introduce zero first, and gradually, the following numbers up to nine.
If your child is showing an early interest in writing, this material might be something you can use at home. It includes lowercase letters with a grooved inset for tracing with the finger or wooden stylus and an additional fine sand tray for writing the letters. *This is not an official Montessori material and wouldn’t necessarily be used in the classroom.
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.
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. 🙂
Here are 5 Montessori gifts for newborns, babies, and toddlers that are perfect for Christmas, Chanukah, birthdays, or just because!
I hope this list will make getting gifts for your little ones this year a bit easier – whether you’re looking for your own child or your relatives are wondering what to buy for them.
These Montessori materials, furniture, and non-toxic toys range in price from 6 to 240 € and are made by various brands in Germany, France, and Sweden. I have separated them into three age groups: newborn (0-6m), baby (6-14m), and toddler (14-36m)
Gifts for newborns 0-6 months
The first Montessori material from birth is the Munari mobile. Its high contrast colour allows Baby to focus on it. The geometric elements are designed with specific proportions that ignite a child’s inherent mathematical sense. It moves naturally with the air in the room so that it’s slow enough for their eyes to follow, which gradually improves their ability to shift focus between distances. Hang 30 cm from the movement mat.
A topponcino is a thin mattress used for holding and carrying newborns. It supports them when relatives or siblings are holding them. It keeps the familiar smell of the parents and eases transitions from person to person/place to place. Time-tested design by Maria Montessori.
Movement is an essential factor for intellectual growth. Freedom of movement is Baby’s time to have their own experiences using all of their senses and make their own discoveries. The Montessori movement mat allows Baby to move freely in a place where view of the space is not obstructed by any walls or bars.
This toy wobbles slowly back and forth and is a motivation to Baby to reach out and start to crawl. It’s small enough for them to grab and it also makes a soft sound when the yellow ball moves from side to side.
This tiny piano has a beautiful and realistic sound. It also has an on/off switch. My little ones in the Montessori Baby class love playing the piano we have in the music area. This is a nice way to make creating and enjoying music a part of your child’s every day life.
This is such a fun material that babies can use successfully and toddlers also enjoy. The balls have to be pushed down so it trains their finger strength, grasp and release, and sense of object permanence.
The tracker is an amazing Montessori material for integrating the left and right hemispheres of the brain, which supports movement and crawling. It also trains their grasp and release and balance. *photo by Eltern vom Mars*
A ring on dowel activity is a critical material for babies. It’s something that they can use for a long time with multiple levels of difficulty. First with a single large wooden ring, and gradually they work up to using a basket of these 4 small rings to the side.
This is a great toy which can be used in so many ways as Baby grows. The first presentation is as a simple pegging activity with 2-4 of the pegs in the board, on the shelf. The final presentation is a colour-matching activity with all the pegs and rings in two separate baskets on the side.
Toddlers love learning about tools. Teaching them how to use a saw, hammer, clamp, manual drill, screwdriver… is a lifelong skill that they can do successfully and independently from two years old! It’s amazing how much children are capable of when they have the right tools. The Haba Terra tools are good quality, child-sized, and most importantly, real.
Hoerbert plays screen-free music that the child can choose for themselves. You can also program white noise, audiobooks, and entire playlists into the buttons through their easy application. This is a fantastic way to include multiple languages in your child’s environment as well if each button has songs or stories in a different language.
Toddlers love caring for the environment. Giving them their own plant to love and water and clean is a beautiful way to support their sense of responsibility, respect for life, and self esteem. Water is also a huge point of interest right now and they LOVE to pour, so make sure that you buy a plant which can take a lot of water. 🙂
It’s such a boost to a toddler’s self esteem when they can prepare a snack for themselves, therefor fulfilling one of their basic needs independently. Cutting a banana or other soft fruits+veggies is a safe and easy activity that you can keep available for your little one at all times in the kitchen for when they feel like having a snack. Invite your toddler to help you chop ingredients for meals. This teaches life skills and includes them as a contributing member for the family. 🙂
Threading is another activity which grows with your little one as their fine motor skills develop. This beautiful set comes with 18 wooden beads. When you first introduce this toy around 14 months, you can start with just the thread and 2 beads. Slowly add more and more. You can also use them for color sorting activities! Suggestion: when your toddler is able to have success using the wooden threading needle, change it out for a long thicker shoe lace for a new challenge.
A special part of the Montessori classroom, which is different from traditional classrooms, is that children concentrate deeply and for long periods of time on their work, whether a teacher is watching over them or not.
Even Dr. Montessori was surprised by this when she first observed a 3 year old student engrossed in her work with the wooden cylinders in the first Casa dei Bambini in San Lorenzo, 1917. She said, “the expression on the child’s face was one of such concentrated attention that is seemed to me an extraordinary manifestation”. (The Advanced Montessori Method, 1965) This level of concentration later appeared in another child and another until every child in the Casa was able to reach a state of peaceful focus through their work. Thus concentration became a core principle of the time-tested Montessori method.
Montessori supports concentration in 3 ways:
by offering a prepared environment (a space that facilitates the child’s ability to use engage with it)
by preparing interesting materials with varying levels of difficulty (practical activities and materials which engage the senses)
by removing obstacles that might disrupt or distract the children.
To prepare an environment which supports the child’s power of concentration, the parent becomes a protector of their attention and an observer of their work. The adult must be able to differentiate between purposeful play, and chaotic play.
Maria Montessori called the child’s purposeful play with materials “the child’s work” because when they play, children can be deeply involved in the activity; their attention is clear and focused; and they are persistently mastering a new skill. “Used in this way,” Maria Montessori says, “ the material reveals itself as a key which puts the child in communication with himself and opens his mind to expression and activity.” (The Discovery of the Child, p. 210)
The way young children think
Children from 0-3 have a special kind of learning style – an “inner teacher ” which attracts them to the experiences and materials which will teach them what they need to learn in the moment. Toddlers also have the tendency to ignore activities which are too simple or too challenging for them.
This tendency can be observed even in newborn babies – when they are interested in something, they will focus on it for long periods of time and when they become bored, they will look away and their period of concentration will have finished.
Research in developmental psychology has shown that young children, when free to choose among different materials, will choose materials that optimise their development and that are just above their currently level of competence. (Lillard, p. 117)
In my classroom, the materials on the shelves are arranged from easiest to hardest, from left to right. When parents are in the class, they can see clearly that the youngest children in the group choose more often activities on the left, which are perfect for their stage of development and the older children usually choose to work with the most complicated materials on the left side of the shelf, which offer them the right amount of challenge for their stage of development.
It is because of these observations that we know we can trust the child to make good decisions and know that when we observe them in an intense state of concentration that their activity is crucial to their development and self-mastery. For this reason, we do not interrupt the child unless it is a matter of safety or consideration for others.
Supporting concentration in babies
When a newborn is concentrating on something, don’t disturb them until they are finished. You can observe them for signs: – When they are concentrated, they will focus their eyes on something and appear to be in a trance with it. – When they are not concentrated they will move, maybe fuss and make noise that they are done and would like to be moved or have another need that needs to be met.
freedom of movement
Babies are fascinated with using their senses to understand the world around them better. They are also very focused on learning to slither, crawl, stand, and walk. Offering sensorial activities and open space where they can move freely is the best thing you can do to support their concentration.
Allowing the possibility of movement through an entire room opens up a whole world of interest an opportunities for the child to thoughtfully choose the activities which are necessary for their development.
Materials for supporting concentration at home
1. Levels of difficulty
The optimal materials for supporting concentration in toddlers are ones that are just above their current level of abilities, but not so challenging that they will not have success. When toddlers are under-challenged they can become deviant so it’s important that their environment constantly offer them new levels of difficulty as they grow.
For example, when you buy or prepare an activity for your child at home, think – “How will this grow with my child?” Is it something you can simplify and add on to as they grow?
The MontiKids Mailbox, which I have in my classroom, is a great example because it teaches toddlers about early geometric concepts and new vocabulary like “triangular prism!”; and it comes with 3 geometric solids and 5 lids that progress in complexity.
2. Practical life activities
Activities in practical life support toddlers’ development of concentration more than any other Montessori materials because they fix their attention on a repetitive movement or process. The purpose of this process is focused on a goal to which the child can relate – a goal that corresponds to their need to care for the environment and engage in the activities they see adults doing around them.
Movement is the secret for holding the attention of the child.”
maria Montessori, Creative Development in the Child I
A toddler might, for example, work very hard to clean a table and then start all over again, just for the pleasure of repeating and perfecting the skill of washing it. Although materials like table-washing have a practical purpose of getting the table clean, to the child it is much more. The child is getting to imitate an activity they see adults perform regularly and they are feeling the reward of engaging their full attention on a process they can understand and complete independently.
In Montessori we adapt all regular chores for the children so they can enjoy completing them successfully. For example, you might buy a sponge at the supermarket and cut it twice to make 3 small sponges which are the perfect size for tiny toddler hands.
Practical tips for supporting concentration
Use a shelf On a shelf in the child’s play space, set up a shelf with only 6-10 activities for the child. Keep activities on the shelf which you see them repeating again and again. When they ignore an activity it may be too challenging or too simple and it’s time to change the level of difficulty by adding or removing a step or exchanging it for another material. >>> See my blogpost on How to use a Montessori shelf at home for more shelf tips for 0-3 year olds <<<
Have a defined work space where the child can bring their activity. For babies this is probably a carpet on the floor in front of the shelf; for toddlers, this is a low table and chair near the shelf. Make sure this workspace stays clean and ready to use so that the child is able to focus on completing the activity they chose completely and have success in the end.
Provide many opportunities for practical life (cooking, cleaning, self care). More than anything else, toddlers love to concentrate on these activities.
Avoid interrupting their state of concentration. Interrupting can take many forms, some as well-intentioned as giving a kiss or applauding them. Remind yourself to stay silent when they are focused on their work and give them the space they need to concentrate and learn.
Invite them to repeat an activity after they have finished it once. Every time they finish something, you can say “let’s try this again” or “would you like to do this again?” or “you can do this by yourself now”. This gives them the chance to use the material by themselves and find concentration in the activity if it’s important for their stage of development.
Less is more the more difficult it is for the child to find concentration, the simpler and quieter their environment should be so as to not distract or overstimulate them. The order of the space should be clear and consistent so the child can find security in the space and relax enough to find peace and focus.
Tips for when the child struggles to find concentration
Observe without intervention how the child interacts with the space. What is distracting them or drawing their attention from place to place?
Practical life for toddlers: entice them to get involved with some practical activity. Practical life activities are usually the first place a child who has trouble focusing will find concentration.
Let them find their own solutions to their problems. Often with a child who has trouble concentrating, trying to help them will immediately cause them to abandon their activity and move on to something else. Their point of interest is often the difficulty itself, rather than the task.
Lower the noise level in the space. When the space and the people around him are peaceful, the child will be more aware of themselves and their surroundings. It’s very easy for babies to become overstimulated and for toddlers to become overwhelmed.
Don’t cause distractions: When they finally concentrate on something, say nothing and do nothing, so as to not distract their attention.
Do your own purposeful work: Model concentration yourself by focusing completely on one thing at a time like reading a book, doing some handwork, preparing a meal.
Lillard, Angeline Stoll, Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius, 3rd Ed., Oxford University Press, 2017 Montessori, Maria. Creative Development in the Child 1. Kalakshetra Press, 1994 Montessori, Maria. The Discovery of the Child, Third Edition,1948 Montessori, Maria. The Advanced Montessori Method, 1965
Montessori toys are not built to entertain the child, but rather to engage their curiosity, creativity, and problem solving skills.
Children love to learn. They are naturally curious and fascinated by the world around them. They are eager to perfect their own skills and mimic the things they see older children and adults doing. They “play” to absorb new information and to train their skills. They enjoy repeating over and over these new skills until they have been perfected.
A child who is confident in their surroundings and their ability to approach the things that intrigue them is one who learns actively from their environment.
independence & perseverance
Montessori fosters independence and self-direction through the thoughtful design of each toy, through the layout of the play space, and through the way the adult interacts with the child. When children have more control over their learning, they work harder, perform better, retain more information, and are more creative and joyful.
Children learn most when presented with just the right amount of challenge, not so easy that they are bored and not so difficult that they are frustrated. The Montessori curriculum is thoughtfully designed and timed so that children are repeatedly entering this ideal zone for learning.
Montessori maps a child’s development so that with each toy, the child goes through the experience of struggling with a new skill, practicing and then mastering it. Mastering challenging activities helps children to develop healthy self-esteem and the self-awareness that they can improve their abilities and increase their intelligence. Children with this independent mindset also persevere longer on challenging tasks, a valuable life skill.
how are Montessori toys different from commercial toys?
Montessori toys are designed to meet the child’s developmental stages.
They provide just the right amount of challenge, without being over stimulating.
They isolate the difficulty of learning one new concept at a time . This allows the child to challenge themselves without getting overwhelmed.
Montessori toys help children to self-correct. This encourages your child to repeat and gain the tremendous benefits of solving a problem independently.
how to use a Montessori shelf at home
The goal of the Montessori shelf is not to fill children with information but rather, to provide a rich environment and support their natural drive to learn through play.
rotate, guide & observe
Add 6 toys to the shelf
Allow them to play with the toys on a carpet or low table next to the shelf
Rotate toys according to their interest:
If they don’t use one of the toys on the shelf, it might be too easy or too difficult for the child and should be altered or rotated out
Show them how to use a new toy when you add it to the shelf, then let them use it independently from then on
which toys should I buy?
less is more
You probably already have a lot of toys for your little one. Before buying anything, go through what you have and choose 6 good toys to start off with and the rest can be stored away for later.
levels of difficulty
The best toys for at home are ones that will grow with your child, offering multiple levels of difficulty. I have included a table with 6 examples below to demonstrate what this means.
level one | 12-16 months
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Ring on a rocking base
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