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August 27, 2015

Montessori Toddlers and Maximum Effort

Toddlers are always on the move. Climbing, running, hauling, pushing, and throwing. They seem to have an unending need to move. And, they honestly do! Toddlers need to move their bodies to learn and that's why gross motor play is so important. But, there is another important Montessori concept to understand when thinking about toddlers and movement - the need to reach maximum effort. 

While I knew nothing about Montessori when Henry was a toddler, looking back I recognized this need in him, but just thought he was funny. He was always trying to carry and lift things that were way too big for him, or were too heavy. Now, I realize that toddlers and maximum effort just go together!

What is Maximum Effort in Toddlers?

Now parenting a second time, I recognize all these same qualities in Nora. Except, this time, I know now that she's trying to reach maximum effort. Maria Montessori recognized that as toddlers grew, they looked for ways to develop their strength. They look for ways to challenge themselves in constructive ways by using all of their power to do tasks. 

Dr. Montessori observed that children, particularly one-year-olds, need to do BIG work. She observed that once they can move their body, they need to push this movement to their limits. They need to exercise their body to the max. Modern brain science confirms this phenomenon as a child developing their proprioceptive sensory system

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Montessori Toddlers Maximum Effort DIY

Knowing this, I have looked for opportunities for Nora to exercise this internal drive to reach this maximum effort. Often, this means not reacting when Nora reaches for something that might not seem like it's appropriate for her. Is she trying to move something that is too big for her? Is she stacking something a little too hight? Is she lifting something heavy? Not only does not interrupting help to increase her concentration, she is literally developing her body in the most perfect way through this work.

But, beyond just allowing her to find experiences in the environment, understanding her need to meed maximum effort also also means providing Nora with heavy objects to safely haul, lift, drag and carry. These are things for her to use to specifically push herself to the limits. 

One easy way that I've done this has been with DIY water jugs. I filled small jugs {like these} from a craft store with varying amounts of water and glued the tops on. They are perfect for lifting or just carrying around. Since they are plastic, I don't worry about her dropping them if she gets tired. This could be done with any food container. I simply store them on the shelves in a basket which she (and Henry) can access at any time. 

These have been a huge hit with Henry and Nora, actually. They can usually be found inside our walker wagon adding weight to be pushed, or being carried just carried around. 

Updating this article years later: This simple DIY still remains one of our most popular works when it is on our shelves. Teddy, Gus, Nora and Henry have all used these jugs for maximum effort work over the years. 

Other common objects can also be used to meet the need to reach maximum effort. These include large pillows, large balls, unit blocks, foam blocks {pictured}, and other small heavy objects. But also things like pots and pans, opening large doors, moving adult chairs, picking up grocery bags, or walking up or down stairs over and over. Anything that produces a lot of heavy work, or large movement can help a toddler reach maximum effort. 

So next time you see your toddler trying to move their little bodies in comically large ways, think about maximum effort. This isn't a child that is trying to hurt themselves, or a child trying to cause chaos in the environment. This is a child with a very real need. They are following their developmental drive to move, to exert all the effort, and find their own maximum effort. 

Have you noticed your child trying to reach maximum effort? What do they like to do?

Toddlers can often be seen hauling heavy objects. In Montessori we recognize this as the need to reach maximum effort and a simple DIY can help.


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ARWmamaoffive said…
I can look back and remember my little ones doing the same things and always thinking how cute it was, and yet, you are right - they were very serious about it. I can't believe she's big enough already to be walking around and *working* through her day. Time flies! :)
Jenn said…
I'm curious to know how and where you store those huge foam blocks! I'd love to get some of those for my toddler but wouldn't know where to put them when not in use.
Anonymous said…
I've noticed my 14 mo carrying around a sack of potatoes! She also tries to put her hand in the sack, but can't quite figure out how to get the plastic tab off.