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.
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.
This blog post is common question and answer style discussion about Montessori Weaning, food-related difficulties with toddlers, play food, and links to a great Montessori mealtime set. I hope you find it very practical and helpful!
1 | Montessori Weaning
“How does Montessori weaning work?”
Montessori weaning is a child-led approach to the transition from milk to solid foods. We use real, child-sized dishes, glasses, and cutlery to make their experience similar to they way they see us eat. A great place to introduce Baby’s first food is at the family table during a family meal. After you start introducing solid foods, your baby will decide how fast or slow you change to eating food all the time. Start a meal with the food you have chosen, and finish the meal with milk. Gradually baby will take more solid food and less milk until they are completely weaned.
“When should we introduce solid foods?”
In Montessori we follow the child’s interest and natural path of development. Baby’s interest in food sparks around 6 months old. They will start to reach for food at the table, to watch with fascination while you are eating. They have probably had their first tooth and they will be sitting comfortably with support. This is a great time to start introducing new flavours and drinking water from an open glass.
“What are some good 1st foods?”
What you give as your baby’s first food is up to you, your culture, and their interest. You can give juices, broths, soft solid vegetables, soft fruits, purees, or tastes of what you are eating during family meals.
2 | Refusing food
“My child just isn’t interested in food!”
There are multiple reasons why children refuse foods. Sometimes they don’t feel hungry; sometimes they are too tired/overstimulated/not feeling well and will prefer milk. Having scheduled mealtimes also makes a big difference because your child can feel when it’s time to eat based on your daily routine and prepare themselves.
Starting each meal/snack time with 2 solid food options allows the child to choose which food they want to eat and how much. You can finish each meal with milk to make sure that they get all the nutrition that they need. If they have refused a food, have patience, stay positive, and keep offering different options. If you are concerned about how much your child is eating, please speak with your paediatrician.
3 | Family Meals
“My child doesn’t want to sit at the table.”
First you should set the general expectation that when we eat, we eat at the table. If they are hungry, I promise that they will sit with you and eat. When they are done and they want to leave the table, put the food away together. Do not to continue to feed them or give snacks while they walk around. This is distracting and it sends the mixed message that food comes to them and they can eat it wherever they like. Remember to have patience and stay positive. 🙂 You are the parent and you are setting a kind, but firm limit.
“My toddler wants me to play with him during meal times.”
Family meals give babies a lot of information and language. They should be able to participate as an equal member of the family by having a place for themselves at the table – to join you in eating or just observing. If they want to go play after they have finished eating, that’s fine, but you also need to finish your mealtime. You can let your little one know that after you have finished and cleaned up you will be happy to play with him, but at the moment it’s meal time so they are welcome to sit with you at the table or play in their space until you are able to join them.
4 | Throwing food
“What should I do when my child throws food?”
If you are trying to feed your child and they are throwing food, maybe they are not hungry enough to eat right now or they have finished their food. If they have finished eating, they we should set the example that throwing food isn’t appropriate by removing the food and cleaning up together. If they are not hungry, you can try again to sit down an eat in 30 minutes. Make sure to give at least two options with meals so they can decide which food they want to eat.
5 | Using real food + dishes
“Why don’t you use toy food in Montessori?”
In Montessori we always give real objects so that children can have their own experiences and learn about real life. Toddlers are fascinated by cooking and eating, something that they have observed adults doing for their whole lives and they are even more interested when they have the opportunity to do it themselves. So instead of a wooden banana with velcro, give them a real banana and a dull knife (link below) and they can cut it themselves and prepare their own snack!
How great is it that when they feel hungry they can know where to go and what to do to feed themselves. As long as you prepare a space for them in the kitchen where they can do this easily and safely, they won’t have to ask an adult each time they feel a bit peckish. They can meet their own need until the family mealtime. You can start doing this with simple snacks as soon as your little one is walking-around 16 months. Just empty out a low cabinet or shelf and put there a little try or box with one favourite snack in it that they are allowed to take and eat at any time. It helps if they have their own little table nearby where they can sit, prepare, and enjoy it as well.
“Why do you give real glasses and plates to babies?”
We always use real cups, dishes, and cutlery with our babies and toddlers in Montessori. Using plastic spoons and dishes and water bottles is not necessary. We should trust the child enough to allow them the same pleasant experience we expect when eat.
The child’s temperament is the social and emotional part of their personality, which they are born with. Understanding our children’s temperaments and the way it contrasts with our own can help make life easier so that we can:
>>> prevent and manage problems more easily >>> modify the child’s environment to best suit their needs >>> set reasonable limits & expectations
There are no bad or good temperaments, only constructive or non-constructive expectations towards them.
We can be a positive model of temperament control by accepting the child’s natural tendencies and adjusting our reactions through self-observation.
Try to avoid giving the children labels like, “she is fearless; he is social…” because it can be difficult later to free them from this role. This temperament questionnaire is simply meant to help us to recognise their patters of behaviour so we can maintain a peaceful and positive connection with our little ones. 🙂
Use the questionnaire below to compare your temperament and your child’s. Do you have similar or differing personalities?
Montessori Temperament Questionnaire
1. Activity level
– rarely bored – enjoys playing independently moves – constantly seeks out new things – wiggles and needs to move around – makes decisions impulsively (or perhaps recklessly) – needs frequent breaks from sitting
– Try to anticipate what’s going to happen throughout the day and plan several steps ahead. – Allow enough time to burn off energy – Give activities one at a time, particularly when traveling. – Find new skills and challenges or materials to keep them interested and engaged in the environment .
– generally calm and easy-going – content to sit quietly for long periods of time – often found engrossed in a task – sits through mealtimes
– Let them play and figure things out at their own pace (don’t interrupt or rush them). – Allow enough time for the child to transition to a new task. – Accept that they will take their time doing things.
– can easily cope with unexpected situations or events – easily influenced by the feedback from others
– Be a positive model of behaviour and language. They are absorbing everything. 🙂 – Give positive feedback instead of general praise: “You put the puzzle together! You look very pleased with yourself!” – Give plenty of opportunities for new challenges.
– takes time to warm up to new situations or places – does not enjoy switching from one task to another – changes in the daily routine may be upsetting
– Aim for a routine whenever possible. – Prepare your child in advance if there’s likely to be a change. – Allow them to repeat as much as they need to whenever possible. – Invite them to try something new, but respect their choice if they decline.
3. Approach to new situations & sociability
– has a carefree, fearless approach to life – enthusiastic about new situations and people – doesn’t consider possible dangers
– Let them have their own experiences, but monitor closely for safety – Give frequent reminders – Set clear boundaries
– less likely to put self at risk – exhibits caution – hesitates often and for long periods of time
– Prepare for new situations and experiences ahead of time – Don’t force them to participate if they are not comfortable
4. Attention span
– eager to move on to the next thing – most work is not done to completion – doesn’t follow long demonstrations – gets great satisfaction from completing tasks – forgets to tidy up
– Keep language and instructions to the minimum – Allow them to get involved quickly – Use points of interest to help them notice what they are doing. – Remind them what they were doing if they get distracted – Have a place fore everything and a clear order to the space – Encourage practical life activities
– without distractions, can concentrate for a long time – persists even when facing difficulty – can return to an activity even if their attention has been briefly redirected – does activities to completion – gets great satisfaction from completing tasks
– Allow the child to continue or repeat a task as long as they need. – If you need the child to do something or go somewhere, wait until their state of concentration has ended. – When you see that the interest and intensity of their concentration is fading, invite them to tidy up or try something new. – Respond to tantrums with gentleness and compassion. – Introduce activities that require multiple steps .
– notices every sound and movement – doesn’t maintain a constant state of concentration, but can come back to their current task (if attention span is long) – finds it very difficult to become fully engaged in a task (if attention span is short)
– Provide a quiet and orderly workspace to limit distractions – Remind them what their work was if they get sidetracked – Never interrupt if they have achieved focus
– can remain focused, even amidst chaos – becomes frustrated if something isn’t working perfectly
– Allow them to go through a process at their own pace. – Show them slowly and clearly each new activity so they can have success
6. Intensity of Reaction
– must have all needs met at all times – very self-aware – demands attention – attracted to what other children have
– Have patience – Model mindfulness and respect – Remind them of other people and children in the environment “Alfie’s working on that. It will be available soon.” – Set kind a firm limits.
– laid-back – enjoys most things – doesn’t react when their work is taken away
– Try to give them the language to express their wants or needs “Do you want to say, ‘this is my work. It will be available soon?” – Look for signs of their desires which they may not be expressing – Offer 2 choices so they can practice choosing for themselves and self-awareness
– smiley – seems to have fun in most situations
– Observe closely because the child may have developmental needs or obstacles that may be overlooked.
– difficult to read – complains often
– Accept the child for who they are. – Make sure they know their feelings are being heard – Invite to try something new or try a new way
– naturally falls into routines for eating, sleeping, and toiletting needs and behaviour are predictable behaviour can become erratic with the daily routine is changed if the child has a high reactivity
– Try to anticipate changes and have an appropriate alternative available “Your boots are unavailable right now. Would you like to wear your boots or your sneakers?” – Make changes one at a time, for example reading one new story before bed or one new flavour at snack time. – Give 2 choices and for opportunities to try something new, but respect their choice if they say no. “Would you like to go to the pond or the playground today?”
– can ‘go with the flow’ – is not upset by changes in the routine – it’s difficult to predict their needs without a clearly established routine
– Respect that the child’s patterns may vary from day to day. Some nights they need sleep more than other nights. Some days they need to be more active than other days. – Incorporate a regular routine, but allow the child to have some control. For example, make the same quantity of food available at mealtimes, but let the child control how much they eat.
9. Threshold of sensitivity
– sensitive to the feelings of others – may react negatively to sudden noises or movements – may exhibit compassion and try to soothe others
– Allow them to feel and express their feelings in an appropriate way – Give language to express that they are understood and language to understand the outside person or situation. “Are you feeling concerned? You noticed that Yuna was crying. Let’s go see if she’s alright.” “That was a loud noise! Did it startle you?”
– seems not to notice the feelings of other people – might notice others’ reactions but not realise that they can affect or cause them
– Be a positive model of awareness and sensitivity – Try to give them the language to understand how others may be feeling. “Let’s ask if Luka would like a cuddle before we give him one. Luca, would you like a cuddle?” “Stomping is loud and disturbs others. Let’s go outside and stomp.”
10. Cuddliness & soothability
– feels relaxed when you hug them – can be soothed by cuddles and words of reassurance
– Offer a cuddle when they are upset before picking them up. “Would you like me to hold you?” Allow them to express yes or no.
– feels more comfortable at arms length – just needs time to relax after being upset rather than cuddles or caresses
– If they push you away, don’t take it personally. Stay nearby and let them know you are there for them without giving a hug. – Offer a cuddle and allow them to express yes or no.
Photos by Chad Chittenden and Kerly Ilves at Montessori Mother ELC
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
Pegboard with 4 kinds of wood
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“The interpreter is to the child a great hope, someone who will open to him the path of discovery when the world had already closed its doors. This helper is taken into the closest relationship, a relationship that is more than affection because help is given, not merely consolation.”
Maria Montessori. The Absorbent Mind. 1949
Understanding their position
Compare yourself to living in a country where you do not speak the language. Many of us can relate to the frustrations the child could feel when…
things happen to them which are not explained
instructions are given hurriedly without being shown
being treated by speaking people as if disabled because you cannot speak the language
wanting to say something important but you don’t have the words
Understanding their reactions
In these situations I may not have much self-control; I may become agitated, enraged, and begin to cry. That is what happens the child of one or two years old who has tantrums. They are intelligent and know people could understand their ideas, but cannot express them through lack of language. This is a dramatic epoch in the life of the child. (Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind)
Do not misinterpret the child expressing their frustration as deviant behaviour. They are facing a great struggle and feel comfortable enough with you to let you know how they feel and ask you for your help to calm down. Imagine how misunderstood they must feel!
One word sentences
Around 1.5 years old, toddlers realise that every object has a name. They use one noun to express a whole idea. Let’s call this form of self-expression one word sentences. These words are also often abbreviated or altered. When we respond to these sentences’ translations, we give the child reassurance that they are being understood and we bring them calm.
“Humans have a tendency to imagine, to create and to invent with the intellect. For example, an act of imagination allowed humans to use animal fur and plant fibres to construct clothing. A child in the classroom imagines a new constructive way to use a material or how the globe represents the earth.”
Angeline Stoll Lillard (2017, The Science Behind the Genius: 3rd edition, Oxford University Press, p. 120)
There is a common misconception that the Montessori approach doesn’t encourage children to be imaginative and creative. This simply isn’t true. It is true that under 3 years old, we focus on the real world around the child to support the development of imagination and creativity, rather than encouraging fantasy. In this blogpost and corresponding podcast, I would like to discuss the following: imaginary play, fairytales, and creativity through art and music.
1. Imaginary Play
Around 2.5 + years , we will then see our child begin with pretend play. This is a sign of them processing what they see around them, not fantasy. They play families, bake us cookies, and pretend to be the school teacher.
simone davies (2018, The montessori toddler, p.94)
In a true Montessori classroom, you won’t see a pretend play-kitchen or a costume dress up corner. Instead you could find a real, child-sized kitchen area where children can prepare food for themselves or each other; a self care area; a cleaning area the toddlers can use to tidy any messes that are made during class; and a large art area where the babies and toddlers can express themselves creatively. In my school there is also a special woodworking area where the toddlers can safely use real tools to see a real cause and effect.
For Montessori at home, the adult involves the child in day-to-day activities like cooking and dressing and washing. There is no need to give toys that only represent real life (like wooden foods or a plastic toy appliances) when they are fully capable of having real-life experiences with those day-to-day activities that they find so fascinating.
At home you might also put out some open-ended toys from 2.5-3 years old. These allow for many possibilities to let their imaginations grow, without prescribing exactly how they should be used. For example, a set of blocks can be built in any way to represent anything to the child.
2. Fairy Tales
While they are allegedly intended for children, fairy tales are often very scary and not based in reality. Children under 3 and even up to 6 years old have difficulty distinguishing fantasy from reality. Everything we tell them is very real and very true to them. They trust the information that we give them entirely.
That’s why in Montessori the books we read to children under 3 and the stories we tell them all give true information to the children and have realistic depictions of the story. Hopefully toddlers’ books offer information they can relate to their own experiences so they can consider them more deeply and learn more about that topic through the book we are reading to them.
Linguistically when children are able to understand figurative speech like metaphors and symbolism, they very much enjoy fairytales and mythological stories that require critical thinking. Among other things in regards to literature, the Montessori approach aims to give children a strong base in reality from the beginning, so that they can learn to understand complex stories and figurative elements.
3. Creativity Through Art and Music
Art and music are a large part of Montessori education. Maria Montessori believed arts to be just as important as other subjects. There should be a sizeable art area in the Montessori classroom with many different creative, and open-ended activities the child can use whenever they are inspired to do so.
Music is another important part of Montessori education. Musical instruments are available at the child’s level to support musical expression. In every Montessori class we sing and dance and enjoy music together with the children.
In the art area of the Montessori classroom, children have the freedom to explore new possibilities that make them wonder what else could they do? How else can they try?
In Montessori it is our goal that children have an environment which encourages curiosity through the freedom we give to the child and the ways that we prepare the space so that children become curious about the world around them and develop the ability to think and create for themselves.
“The secret of success [in education] is found to lie in the right use of imagination in awakening interest, and the stimulation of seeds of interest already sown.”
— Maria Montessori (1948, To educate the human potential. Madras, India: Kalakshetra)