The desire of the child to be independent is addressed with a lot of attention and care in the Montessori philosophy. In a Montessori classroom, the focus is on helping the toddler or the child become an independent person from an early age.
In this article, we will discuss the changes that appear in the child while progressing from a baby to the toddler; why independence is a critical tray of the future development of the child and how can we adapt Montessori principles to children’s who are homeschooled or are in the traditional education system.
We want to help both parents and teachers by presenting them not just Montessori principles, but actual steps which can be applied easily at home or in the classroom.
Toddlers Education and their independence
If you have a toddler at home, or you teach to a classroom of toddlers, you probably have realized that from a certain age, their focus has changed. They are very keen on doing this on their own. Even if they do not succeed in completing the task, their struggle to finish by themselves is so strong, that they might start crying while still trying to succeed. Their feelings are very strong and quite normal for this age. From birth, we learn by imitating the ones around us. After careful attention, toddlers move to the next era of ‘’I am doing it myself’’.
Lack of time to let the toddler complete the activity by himself/herself
We believe many parents understand their toddlers desire to do things on their own. But, in our daily struggles, with many things to accomplish we might forget to put the time and effort needed to let the child work by himself. If we watch a child get dressed for the first time, you will probably think ‘’ I could have done it much faster’’ or ‘’ He is taking so much time to get dressed that we are going to be late again’’. The pressure of being on time or completing all our activities through the house is getting in the way of the child’s development. As parents, there isn’t a time when we can say:’’ Let’s stop learning now. Mom will do very fast these activities. Next time, I will let you do it.’’ And, very often, if you try to hurry a toddler to do something, it ends up taking more of your time.
Children are very attentive to us, even if we realized it or not. And how we treat them is how they are going to perceive themselves later. We are helping them now develop their self-esteem, which will have a tremendous impact on our future adult.
How early can I let toddlers do things independently?
We think many parents or teachers struggle with this question. You want to nurture the independence of the child, but you might think that he is too small. We can start with simple activities, like letting them get dressed. Or the child can help us put the laundry in the washing machine. We do not have to invent something, they love to take care and contribute to the activities done by the adult. And they feel good and important because they can see they helped their families.
How to help my child become independent if I have too much work at home?
For parents, it can be a real struggle to juggle a job and taking care of a child. Not to mention the pile of laundry and dishes that wait for you to take care of them. But you can both take care of your child and do the laundry. You just have to accept that it will take you longer.
Children love to be involved in the activities done by adults. You can start with small activities that help them to develop at home as toddlers, maybe discuss with the toddler that he will be responsible for watering the plants. Of course, you cannot expect he will remember by himself, but with a little nudge from the adult, he will be very proud to have a task that he is his and only responsibility. If you have several children, you can make a list with all the tasks and assigned age appropriated tasks to all of them. Everyone will be happy to get involved!
The joy of doing things by yourself
Have you noticed a toddler’s face when he accomplishes something by himself? It is priceless. We want to protect and nurture our children so much, that we sometimes forget that someday they will have to do it on their own. And that we now build and influence their relationship with themselves and the world.
Our hurry makes us forget the great treasure our children have and which we do not possess. The joy of doing this independently. A toddler who has learned to walk the stairs will want so badly to do it alone, without help. He does not understand the possible dangers that we, the adults, fear. He just knows that he is already capable of climbing the starts alone and he does not want to take the hand of the adult.
Creating a safe space for an independent toddler
As mentioned at the beginning, there is a lot of emphasizing on the independence of the child in the Montessori philosophy. We want children to thrive and learn by themselves. But we do acknowledge that there is the safety issue at hand. This is way, in Montessori classroom, or the parents who are teaching Montessori concepts at home, are creating an environment that is designed for the child and not the adult. If we want toddlers to be confident about their skills, they need to be able to play in the environment without the help of an adult.
For instance, you can create a classic Montessori setup in a room. Mind the toddler must be able to reach different toys and materials, the table has to be set up and the toddlers should be able to use it anytime. They should not need an adult to come and help them prepare the playing zone. The play is very natural, as the child is able to choose his or her toys without restriction.
Other relevant aspects
The next time your toddler wants to do something independently, try to analyze his face and expressions. Toddlers have such a capacity to focus on a topic and work hard on it. They will try over and over again with the same determination. It is a positive skill and we should encourage it.
Toddlers are going through a lot of emotions at this stage. But one common desire is that they want to feel safe and secure. Only then, they can properly develop. The transition from a toddler to a child needs patience and love (even if we sometimes can get frustrated by their desire for independence).
If a toddler was given enough opportunities to be able to do things by himself, when he reaches the age of 5-6, we will be surprised by his ability. He will be able to put butter on his toast, to tie his shows and he will have freedom in movements without expecting the permission of an adult.
Toddlers and the desire to be independent: 5 activities ideas
Here are 5 pracitcal ideas of activities with the toddlers you can try at home or in a classroom. Of course, beware of small parts, some items are not suitable for toddlers or please do not leave them without supervision!
1) Educational Balancing Toy activity for toddlers
If your toddler’s showing signs that he is prepared to do activities by himself, you can start by creating a space that nurtures his creativity. In the next picture, we have an example of a game that we will captivate the child for hours; the Educational Balancing Moon. He will try again and again until he will get to put all the items on the moon and keep it in balance. Oh, the joy! If you have a classroom, you can have a couple of this in the room and let children get into the activity.
2) Lock Learning Board activity for toddlers
Children and toddlers in general love to play with locks. They are very curious to find out how they are working and what they can do with it. The child can play by himself and does not the help of the adult. Also, it can increase his self-esteem, when he succeeds in opening the locks.
3) Screw Red Bolts activity for toddlersAnother fun activity that will nurture the child’s independence is the wooden block with red bolts to screw in the next picture.
It is a screw block set that will improve the child’s coordination and motor skills. It is a classic Montessori activity because the materials are natural, similar to reality and the child can play with it over and over again without getting bored.
4) Shape matching activity for toddlers
If your little one is a fan of shapes, this activity will be a hit. You can use our set of Cognitive and Matching Wooden Blocks. It contains a shape matching game that will help the child with visual perception. Children will be attracted and delighted by the bright colors of the wooden blocks.
5) One to Ten numbers matching activity for toddlers
For older toddlers, there are a lot of fun activities involving numbers. There are children who get so fascinated by numbers, they start to count everywhere we go. We should nurture that interest by giving them toys to practice their newly developed skills.
The 1-to-10 numbers matching game is intuitive, so even without explanations from the adult, the toddler will figure out what to do and how to play. See our Hedgehog Spikes Matching Game in the picture above as an example.
Independent Toddlers: the last word
There are many other activities that we can try at home or in the classroom which focus on nurturing the independence of the child. With supervision, children can be let to try many activities, while keeping them safe, such as cooking, getting dressed, walk the stairs.
One aspect we should remember is to let them try by themselves. We think many can relate to the following scenario: The child doesn’t succeed in his activity and he start crying. You want to help him and you ask him’’ Can I do it for yourself?’’ What happens next? The child starts crying more loudly and he does not stop. He cried the first time not because he does not want to do the task at hand, but because it is hard. Still, he wants to do it alone. When he succeeds, the calm returns to our houses.’’
So remember that learning how to be independent is a long and hard journey. The child gets frustrated that he cannot do things by himself, even if he thinks he is capable of doing them, the adult gets frustrated that it requires a lot of time for the child to do things independently. It is a daily spiral and we sometimes get drag into it. This period of toddlerhood is a glance at how our children will react when they are teenagers. It is a process that requires time and more importantly, calm from our part. We might not understand why the toddler is crying at what it is in our opinion, ‘’a simple thing’’, but we can be there for them to support and encourage them. The toddler phase is described as a storm of emotions, and our children need our help to learn how to regulate their emotions.
Toddlers have an unexpected desire to explore. Suddenly, from a baby, you have a toddler that wants to move and speak on his own. He wants to be his own judge of his environment and touch and feel things by himself. They are very curious, and their curiosity never stops if we let them explore their interests. We see many teenagers who have lost this wonderful ability, to be curious about the environment around them.
Learning how to help the child develops its independence has positive influences on his ability to prepare for school too. We should remember that even if he is a small person, soon he will go to school and he will have interactions on its own, without us, the adults. We want to know that our children are prepared to face the world. What we do know is putting the first steps to this construction.
Learning by doing is the key factor we should remember from this article. Our toddlers learn best from activities that they can do it alone and by themselves.