Magazine article Montessori Life

The Toddler Years: A Time of Exuberance and Joy

Magazine article Montessori Life

The Toddler Years: A Time of Exuberance and Joy

Article excerpt

It is always a joy to visit

Montessori Early Childhood environments and see the efforts toward exactness and precision on the part on the children. They are young researchers; their concentration and seriousness, combined with their joyful sense of pride as they move toward understanding of their world and mastery of their bodies, is awe-inspiring. It is also a delight when we visit a Montessori Toddler environment and observe children exploring with such curiosity. They interact with the materials with all their senses, uncovering for themselves innumerable purposes. Bursting with the energy of their own unfolding, the jubilant pleasure of their discoveries is infectious!

Like many people this past February, we watched the Winter Olympics. There was something familiar about the deep seriousness of the women speed skaters. What were we seeing? They were carefully placing one foot in front of the other, drawing deep into their own reservoirs of perseverance and balance, every ounce of their bodies and minds fused in deep concentration as they moved along on such thin, narrow blades. Oh! Just like the children in the Early Childhood classroom walking carefully along the line, as they train their minds and bodies to move forward, to balance, to walk with precision and grace!

Then came the next event: freestyle snowboarding. A brightly dressed young athlete smiled, gave a warm and friendly wave to the camera, and then she was off. Speeding on her board, down the rail, up the lip of the jump, and then ascending into the sky; twirling, twisting, arcing, up and over, flipping, flipping again, and then back down to earth-"Thumbs up! Did it!" What a marvel of creative expression: developing her own tricks, the joy and explosion of each move, the delight and optimism upon completion of a run. We've seen that, too, in toddlers: "Bye, I'm off to discover my world. I can do it! And guess what, I can do this too." Toddlers explode with their delight. Each discovery is theirs to make. That warm friendly wave, that joyous jump, that brightness.

How do we create environments that assist and support our toddlers? Montessori said: "Little he cares about the knowledge of others; he wants to acquire a knowledge of his own, to have experience at the world, to perceive it by his own unaided efforts" (Montessori, 1995, p. 91). For all our children, and especially our toddlers, giving them opportunities to perceive and experience the world through their own unaided efforts is the central premise of our prepared environments. Even when we assist toddlers, we do so by standing or sitting behind them, our front behind their back, with our arms becoming an extension of their arms. We prepare the environment to offer the child ample experiences of independence, at every point and level: from the layout, to the scale of the furnishings, to the materials themselves. From the size of the sinks to the size of the spoons, all is scaled to the toddler body.

Our toddler room has children from 18 months to 36 months. In infancy, the child moves from slithering to crawling to walking. In the toddler months, he needs freedom of movement to continue to develop physical coordination. In the Montessori classroom, the children are free to move throughout the environment. They are offered opportunities to engage all their muscles: to lift heavy objects and carry them from one place to another. There are several places inside to jump, spin, and experiment with balance: a small step to climb up and jump off; a "sit-n-spin" to twirl; a rocking seat to tip and right themselves-all motions helping to strengthen the core, learn balance, and develop largemuscle coordination.

The environment is designed to meet each child at her particular stage of development, rather than to prepare her for the next stage of development. For, as we say: "The child is where she is, and she is no place else." According to E. M. Standing, Montessori's biographer, "We may say that the adult works to improve the environment, whereas the child works to perfect himself, using the environment as the means" (1998, p. …

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