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March 14, 2023

What do Montessori 3-Year-Olds Do all Day?

As I think about life lately, I realize that an important shift has occurred - Teddy is no longer really a tiny toddler. I think he really has started to make the shift from unconscious absorber of the environment to a conscious participant working to prepare himself for life. 

From the outside looking in, sometimes Montessori homes can look like our days are spent just working on academic work, or constantly trying to learn or do something. But, really, what do 3-year-olds do all day in a Montessori home? 

3-year-old Montessori child stands at low easel painting with apron and  red and yellow paint

(Teddy paints at easel - art makes up more and more of his day at 3-years-old. Apron)

The short answer is - they develop themselves through their free activity. It is by keeping busy in the house, with the opportunities they find that they become the people they are supposed to be. Maria Montessori said: "Free activity makes children happy. We can see how happy they are, but it is not the fact that they are happy that is important; the important thing is that child can construct a man though this free activity." (1946 London Lectures, p 136)

Montessori preschooler sits at table and completes a shape puzzle by lining shapes by size and color.

(Teddy works on an old shape and size sorting puzzle.)

Montessori 3-Year-Old and Free Activity

So what does free activity look like? It looks different everyday for Teddy. Sometimes it looks like sitting still and practicing sandpaper letters. Sometimes it looks like being very busy and running around the house listening to music. Sometimes it looks like working in the kitchen. As Maria Montessori also said, "children touch everything in the house." (1946 London Lectures p. 119)

3-year-old uses Montessori sandpaper letters at home and sorts small language objects to each corresponding letter. In the background other Montessori materials are seen.

As a Montessori parent, I prepare myself for this activity in a couple ways. One by providing opportunities in the environment - I know he is starting to want to refine his activity and repeat more and more. An interest in letters and numbers has started. Rhythms and routines remain important. 

"The child becomes more conscious through repeated experiences in the environment. To become conscious is to know." Maria Montessori (1946 London Lectures p. 127)

Two, giving lots of time to explore, repeat, and experiment. We aren't always rushing out the door to find entertainment, but we're spending lots of time in our environment working together. He's ready for longer presentations and for going a little deeper.  But, we move at his pace and his interest. Free activity does not mean my activity. 

3-year-old pretends plays in his Montessori home with diecast cars and a wooden snowplow.

(Ted pretends to snowplow a street that he made on his own.)

And, this activity is pretend play, it's art, it's practical work, it's being social with siblings, and it's working with materials.  The exact combination of this activity changes each day. We go with it. That free activity is Ted working on Ted, and it's a wonderful thing! 

Maria Montessori gave us some clues about how a 3-year-old's day should look and the answer might surprise you - free activity. This activity within the prepared environment of a Montessori home is how we can help our children thrive.

What does your 3-year-old's day look like? 


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Maria said…
Outdoor imaginative play is very important for kids. When a child role-plays experiences of his/her interests, such as playing school with their toys, either alone or with other kids, that’s considered imaginative play. It keeps them physically and mentally fit. When they go outside, they find a lot to explore and become curious about the things around them. Their level of imagination gets stronger and their exposure to the natural environment boosts their immunity. Kids need to experience outdoor imaginative playing and this can be really fun with electric kids cars.