As a working mom and mother of a 1-year-old boy, I often find myself obsessing over the details of my son’s experience at his nanny’s. I think about his socialization, diet, nap times and exposure to stimulation. When I transferred from a retail position to a new job at a Montessori school, my fascination in my toddler’s development blossomed in new ways.
Last fall, I became an administrative assistant at Knoxville Montessori School (KMS). One reason I applied for the position was my curiosity for Montessori Education. To my amazement, Montessori is vast. My own research merely scratched the surface, and every day, I have learned something new.
First, I became aware that other parents also take toddlerhood very seriously. Parents (myself included) may ask themselves these questions: is my toddler getting to do what he enjoys? Does my child receive all of her comforts? How does he interact with other toddlers? What is she learning?
Indeed, children under six undergo tremendous development. Maria Montessori, who founded the Montessori Method in Italy in 1897, categorized learning into four planes of development: infancy, childhood, adolescence and adulthood. My son is still in “infancy,” where he will be until Kindergarten. In each plane, children experience age-related stages of learning, she coined “Sensitive Periods.” So, my son is already developing some of these skills: movement, language, small objects, order, music, grace and courtesy, refinement of the senses, writing, reading, spatial relationships and mathematics.
At 12 months, it seemed as though my son was only ever going to crawl, until one Saturday morning, he walked a couple yards to give me a “gift” – a raggedy old hat. By the next Saturday, he was “running” laps around the house and backwards-climbing off furniture more frequently. From personal experiences, I became aware that toddlers develop unexpectedly quickly or slowly over time.
Also, toddlers are like “sponges,” soaking up information from the world, from our voices to patterns, textures and more. I recently gave my son the Fischer Price record player. For 30 minutes, he picked up the plastic record, looked it over, and placed it on the needle, only to remove the record and redo this process. Even before turning on the player, he learned how the pastel, grooved record looked and felt, the noise the record makes as it “clicked” onto the needle, and most of all, how quickly the toy record sailed across the living room.
Before I interviewed for my job, I never saw a Montessori Classroom. At KMS, the 3-6 age classrooms have low shelves and lots of open space. The activities sit neatly on each shelf for children to easily access. Students choose their own projects, which are hands-on, multi-sensory activities, instead of workbooks and textbooks. They are encouraged to work independently and move around the room freely, as opposed to sitting in a group for long periods of time. Maria Montessori designed her method around children’s independence and freedom, within limits, allowing them to choose activities appropriate to their individual, psychological development.
I’ve also learned that Knoxville has a rich Montessori scene. Montessori was introduced to Knoxville in 1967 as the Knoxville Montessori Children’s House. The Children’s House later became Knoxville Montessori School. Today, Knoxville is home to seven independent, private schools: Montessori Internationale in Farragut; Giving Tree Montessori in Rocky Hill; Nature’s Way Montessori in East Knoxville; Knoxville Montessori School between Sequoyah Hills and Bearden; Garden Montessori in Fountain City; Little River Montessori in Louisville; and Mead in South and West Knoxville. Even though all offer Montessori programs, each school is distinctive in size, structure and curricula.
If you are like me and want to learn more about Montessori and your toddler’s development, it is really fun to visit a school. Online, you can find great resources and activities to try at home. One of my favorite blogs is Maren Schmidt’s “Kid’s Talk.” From Daily Montessori, I have found a great list of recommended toys and activities for your younger toddler:
Birth to 18 months
Toys and activities that cater to teething, mobility, coordination, manipulation and the exploration of sight, sound and touch: soft and squeaky toys, toys with bright contrasting colors, rattles, mobiles, mirrors, simple musical instruments, balls of different size and texture, toys to knock down, bath and pouring toys, blocks, push and pull toys, stacking toys, rings and bases, board books.
18 months to 3 years
Toys and activities that cater to the child’s need to organize their world, imitate adults, express their own personality, and “test” everything: wooden jigsaws, sandpit toys, hammer and pegs, realistic animals, crayons and paints, musical instruments, regular and/or miniature household objects, toys with wheels, large threading beads, interlocking blocks, bean bags, miniature cleaning supplies such as mops, brooms, gardening tools, play dough, story books.
For your older toddler, ready for greater independence, I have found an infographic provided by Montessorium.com.
Annie Brown is a mother of her 1-year-old son. She grew up in Blount County, and attended Maryville College for a degree in Writing and Communications. Now, she resides in South Knoxville near Downtown and Ijams Nature Center. Recently, she began working as the administrative assistant at Knoxville Montessori School, between Sequoyah Hills and Bearden. She enjoys writing, cooking, being outdoors and raising her son.