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February 16, 2016

Montessori Parenting: Let's Stop Rushing Toddlers

We live in a fast world. I can order food online and have it delivered to me an a matter of minutes all without ever interacting with anyone. It's that fast. In a matter of seconds I can look up any information I've ever wanted or needed to know. 

This speed creates a certain pressure. Have you felt it? There's a pressure to keep up, to move at lightening speed, to skip steps and make leaps. The same is becoming true for other aspects of life -- for child rearing and education. Kindergarten is the new first grade; preschoolers are the new kindergartners; toddlers are the new...

Young toddler stands in front of refrigerator pointing to various wooden magnets with pictures of fruit.

Well, what are toddlers? Still toddlers! But, yet still they face all the pressure to push academics. To teach toddlers ABCs, to teach them to count. There's a rush to teach them all these abstract concepts. I know I feel it. There's an expectation that they be working toward a goal. That they become little people capable of regurgitating facts and sayings. "What color is this!? How many are there?! What letter is this!? What sound does that animal make!?"

Montessori Parents: Can we all agree to stop?

I will stand up and admit that with Henry I pushed these things. Through tot school, I was introducing academic concepts with him from an early age. But, if I could go back I wouldn't have taken that approach.

Things are different this time. I'm not going to bow to this mainstream pressure. I'm going to resist it -- tooth and nail. I'm not going to skip steps. I'm going to save the mystery of preschool for preschool. 

In the words of Maria Montessori (from The Absorbent Mind):

"By the age of three, the child has already laid down the foundations of his personality as a human being, and only then does he need the help of special scholastic influences." 


So, before three, have other more important work than scholarly work.

So, what should Montessori toddlers be doing if not academics? 

Toddlers are creatures of our world. They are explorers and scientists. They need to focus on the concrete; they need the world actually around them. They are building their vocabulary about things that are real. This happens naturally in a language rich environment. These language skills come from activities like: 
  • Talking to your child (there's a reason they follow you around all day!)
  • Reading to your child
  • Providing opportunities for classifying, creating order and matching. These skills are the foundation for understanding abstract concepts later. 

In our fast paced world, toddler's are being forced to learn new academic concepts faster and faster. Instead of pushing toddlers, this Montessori answer is to slow down, stop rushing toddlers and let them be little.

Toddlers need to develop their hands and bodies through movement. They need to be given opportunities for exploration of concrete materials. Things that challenge their little muscles and their big ones! They are wiggly and uninterested in sitting still for a reason. They have to figure out how they work. This looks like:
  • Lots of maximum effort work 
  • Lots of sensory exploration
  • Lots of free movement

Materials, little trays and even toys can come later. They are driven to move. We can give them the respect and space to allow them to explore. "Play is the work of the child." Maria Montessori And we can trust that it is through this movement that they are learning and growing. Movement is how people are driven to learn and as toddlers move in their environment their wonderful brain is soaking in all of the things around them. 

{In these pictures, Nora uses wooden fruit magnets. (Similar) Exploring the shapes and asking me the names.} 

They are also driven to the practical. They learn from watching. And you are their constant teacher. Are you sitting around scooping beans? No, not likely. Are you scooping in the garden, the kitchen? Yep! And that's where they ultimately want to be. We can give them the tools to make it happen. This can be through physically giving them child sized tools to explore, or just by opening up the opportunities to engage in real work around the home. 

So, next time your toddler won't sit for hours working on little trays or work, won't count to 10 for you, or shows no interest in art projects, remember they aren't built for that. Stop rushing your toddler. Next time you want to quiz your toddler on the letters of the alphabet, just wait. Know that they have more important work to do! Follow your child, let their interests lead you and enjoy them while they are little!

Thoughts on a common Montessori misconception - that toddlers should be working on academic work. Instead in Montessori homes, toddlers should be learning from play and exploration in their environment.

Have you found yourself rushing your toddler toward academics? Do you disagree with me?

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Unknown said…
This is wonderful, Nicole, thank you.
Anonymous said…
I have so much questions as my toddler is 18 month old and I want to play and learn with him but also I don't want to rush him into something. So, thanks on this post. Nikolina
StimpyCat said…
I've been feeling bad about this myself, especially when I see other toddlers who can moo and woof and point out the color blue, and my kiddo just wants to dig in the dirt, collect rocks, and take apart stuff.
Ms. Jirges
Ms. Jirges said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said…
Thank you for writing this! Your thoughts got me through a day where I was feeling exhausted and not enough for my 17 month old. I think I fully agree with your words, but find it difficult to heed them with the pressures on mothers and children right now. This helps a lot though, as it validates my frustrations and motivates me to slow down and breathe!
Anonymous said…
So much of their development comes at their own pace and seemingly overnight. I stressed when every word my 21-monther started with a "G" sound or when he only wanted to "meow" at everything for days at a time, but these things disappeared just as quickly as they appeared. Thanks for the reminder that we need not stress ourselves during this wonder-filled time!
Louis Daniels
Louis Daniels said…
We can get some real facts from here. As a parent we should follow some useful tips from here and while utilizing these tips; we should not force our kids for anything and also we should not put pressure on them. We should support them and not even expect for any quick results from them. Otherwise we are indirectly put some pressure on their tiny thoughts.
kid steals
Anonymous said…
I love this. I think as parents we should just do what comes naturally with our little ones. Like you said - read, play, let them explore while watching you do the daily stuff. Talk about their world and feed their curiosity. There's so much learning in these things! Back in the days before Pinterest and other social media, that's what my husband and I did with our toddlers, and you know what? They are all incredibly talented, smart, and excited about the world in their own ways. When our little man was born four years ago, that pressure to push him was so great, but I quickly realized he was much happier (and so was I) when I just let him be his sweet toddler self. He's now a sweet preschooler who is eager to learn rather than being burnt out.
Liz Seivert
Liz Seivert said…
I agree that toddlers, and children in general, should be rushed or pushed or put on "our" schedule of what they should learn when. However, I think toddlers can easily learn and absorb all kinds of info, including more academic skills like counting and colors, etc.

I say this because I ran a Montessori-inspired homeschool group for awhile and ended up incorporating young toddlers, 18 months, simply because one of them had separation anxiety so we couldn't put them in a separate space the way we were planning to. I did a bit of research on how to do Montessori stuff for toddlers (because I had never heard of such a thing!) and set up some work and simple activities just for them.

But do you know what? They ended up doing the preschool work more than anything else. Sure, they didn't always do it correctly and it was mainly the Practical Life stuff they gravitated to, but gravitate they did! Since a lot of my trays involved a combination of Practical Life and more academic concepts, these young toddlers wound up learning or at least starting on these concepts pretty early and without any "pressure" to do so. Actually they were better students in some ways than the preschoolers! As you said, at 18-24 months children are so interested in exploring their environment that you put a tray in front of them with a simple Practical Life activity and they really get into it. They aren't yet into the stage of asserting their little personalities like their 3-year-old siblings. Lol!

So just while I think we shouldn't push them to learn something they are not ready for, we also shouldn't have any artificial ideas about what young kids can and cannot learn. It really does come down to following the child and their interests and what is working for them.
Anonymous said…
I agree there is too much competition between parents today and too much focus on teaching abstract concepts too early, as a grandma I often hear, "My toddler can count to ten and say the ABC's." When I think about this little being on the big earth less than three years it reminds me to savor the moments watching a toddler discover the world for the first time. I will never forget the first time I saw the ocean at age nineteen, it was an ethereal moment, seeing the majestic view of the vast ocean in front of me, smelling the fresh salt filled air, feeling the soft warm sand on my feet, hearing the calming rhythm of the waves coming in and going out, it was pure ecstasy! I imagine a toddler has many of these peak moments, it is a true privilege to witness the wonder and awe in these little creatures every single day as they move on the earth discovering it's beauty and richness and their own physical relation to it and to their comrades in life, letters and numbers pale in comparison! Enjoy the wonder years, they go by way too fast!! Thank you for your insightful post Nicole, important message!!