Last month I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the annual AMI-USA Montessori Refresher Course in New Orleans. Being that Montessori for under 3 year olds is fairly ‘new’ to Canada (limited number of schools offer this here) it was very important for me to attend this conference and be immersed in a very vibrant and large Montessori Infant & Toddler community from the US.
There were over 1,200 Montessori educators at the Refresher, ranging from Assistants to Infancy all the way through Adolescent trained teachers. My weekend was spent learning from the highly experienced trainer Sharlyn Smith and collaborating with 120 other Assistants to Infancy trained Montessori teachers.
Our topic for the Refresher was “Adaptation and the Spiritual Preparation of our Work”. Here are some key ‘takeaways’ that impressed upon me the importance of our work with children under three years old:
- Adaptation is an unquestionable necessity for all human beings and begins at birth. Adapting to one’s place and time is a human tendency and it is through the child’s absorbent mind that she is able to take in everything from her environment in its totality, without any judgement. As the child takes this in, she becomes that environment.
- 85% of the brain is formed by 3 years old! This neurological construction is done through the child’s experience in the environment, which is driven by her interests. If the child is not interested, she will not be drawn towards those particular things. We know that the child’s greatest task is to become and belong to her environment so we must allow her to participate in everyday life.
- The child’s experience in her particular environment will teach her many things. This comes with a responsibility from the adults. We must allow for this exploration to occur, while keeping the child safe and healthy.
- The child must be allowed to experience the natural consequences of her actions. Without this, there is no way for the child to learn, “If I do this, what happens?” This teaches the child how the world works.
- We should not think of limits as a punishment to the child. Limits help a child to understand what is right and wrong, appropriate and inappropriate, and ultimately helps the child feel secure, calm, responsible, and confident.
- One huge component of this ‘experiential learning’ comes through involving your child in Practical Life activities around the home. Having the child participate in cleaning, cooking, dressing, and other household tasks will allow her to gain an immense sense of positive self-esteem that she will internalize and carry with her for her entire life!
Tips for home:
- Allow for time. This might not be first thing in the morning when you are trying to rush out the door but plan a time in the evening or on the weekend to involve your child. Have her help load the laundry into the washer, fold the socks together, set the table, carry the plates to the kitchen, sweep the floor, spray and wipe the table, hang up her jacket, put her clothes on/take her clothes off, brush her hair and teeth, spread butter on toast, pour her own milk….the list goes on! Do these activities in collaboration until your child feels confident.
- Supply some child-size materials. A kitchen learning tower is a fabulous (and safe) way for your child to participate in helping at the kitchen counter. Have some small items for your child to use like a child-size broom, mop, dustpan, brush, spreader, plates, cutlery, cups, etc. Have them accessible to your child in a low cabinet or cupboard.
- Do not expect perfection. If we learn a new skill, nobody expects us to master it the first (or even hundredth) time so we cannot expect this from the child. She needs to repeat and repeat in order to perfect her movements. By allowing this repetition to occur, you will allow your child the opportunity to practice concentrating, which is setting her up for success for years to come!
Allowing your child to be a part of your everyday life, to participate, practice, repeat, and perfect, will teach her “I am able”. This positive self-esteem and self-confidence will stick with your child so that when faced with challenge in the future, deep down your child will know, “I can do this.”