The toddler environment is set up to encourage children ages 15 months to 3 years old develop the skills they need to succeed in everyday life. The different areas include; care of self, care of environment, language, gross and fine motor skills, and art exploration. We set the children up for success, so a great deal of thought goes into how we set up the environment and what materials we use. Our Montessori-trained guides carefully design the environment to be beautiful, uncluttered and organized so the children will be attracted to and excited to work with the materials offered to them over and over again.
The Garden classroom as prepared by Ms. Rachel, Ms. Cortney and Ms. Brooke, accommodates the full-day toddler program, as well as before and after school care.
Care of Self
This area includes learning to take care of basic needs as well as becoming able to take care of needs most adults take control of but toddlers are more than able to accomplish. Toilet learning is a main focus in the toddler environment, we have a bathroom fitted with a child-sized toilet and most children begin wearing underwear shortly after beginning the program. Diapering is done in a standing position in preparation for toilet learning and all children are given the opportunity to regularly sit on the toilet and participate in the dressing process.
Of course eating is another area we focus on in the toddler community. We have a snack, that the children sometimes prepare, in the morning and in the afternoon. We eat as a group at lunch time using real utensils, plates and glasses. The adults eat along with the children to model behavior and the children follow along cleaning up after themselves when they are finished. We also have lessons in wiping one’s nose, hair care and washing hands.
Care of the Environment
One of the first things you will notice when entering the environment is that it is totally and completely arranged for the size of small children. Because of this the children feel more comfortable and responsible for taking care of the things in their environment. We have materials for dish washing, table washing, plant care, sweeping and wood polishing.
Children at this age love to imitate what the adults around them are doing and we give them the opportunity to do this using materials sized for them and without interrupting or “redoing” what they have accomplished. The children are given lessons on the materials, so they can see what each lesson entails, and then are given the opportunity to work with the materials for as long as they want, repeating the steps as many times as they need to feel accomplished.
In an environment where all of the children are learning to use language, it makes sense that everything in the environment itself is a language material. We are very careful with the words we use, not using too many, speaking clearly and getting down to the children’s level to speak to them. We also have an area in our room dedicated to language learning. We have many books on a beautiful bookshelf, objects to name and match and language cards to explore.
We follow the children’s interest, so a variety subjects are covered on any given day. Children may explore these materials on their own, with the guide or sometimes in small groups. Materials in this area are changed regularly, but left out long enough for the children to enjoy them to their fullest. We also have a daily group time where books are read aloud and songs are sung. We have a very diverse community and languages other than English can be heard daily. Each Thursday morning a Spanish specialist comes to the classroom for a 30 minute class.
Gross Motor and Fine Motor Skills
Again since toddlers are learning to refine these types of movement, the use of these skills can be found everywhere in the environment. Eating, dressing, folding laundry and many other self care and environmental care duties also fit in this category. Some specific materials we use to refine these skills are; puzzles, stringing beads, turning and twisting knobs, using instruments and using the Montessori dressing frames. Many of these skills are also used outside, for example; climbing, sliding, gardening, kicking and throwing balls and using scooters and bikes.
Art in the Montessori classroom is done for the experience of the process not the product. This means that different types of art exploration are available in the classroom at all times and children may choose to use it when it looks inviting to them. Easel painting, water color, gluing, coloring and using scissors are a few of the options they have in this area. There are times we may have a special project for a holiday or gift we are making, or we may just have a fun day of sitting as a group and doing a giant finger painting. Some of the materials in this area need a lesson from the trained guide and some can be explored on their own. When a lesson is given it is simply to show how a material is used, not what the “art” should look like when finished.
Other subjects are covered in our curriculum but do not have a specific area. Subjects such as math, geography, culture, science, grace and courtesy, music and movement can be found in many of the other areas in the room. Science might be covered when we see a frog in our planters on the playground and math might be investigated when we take a walk around the campus and count how many steps it takes to get to the fence. Grace and courtesy is using “please” and “thank you” and learning to wait for a turn. We often can be seen having a “dance party” when we use scarves and ribbons to move around the room to music from around the world. With toddlers the possibilities are endless and we use that to our advantage every day.