The Montessori Toddler environment is an inviting space designed to offer Toddlers the independence they deeply crave. Dr. Maria Montessori recognized that independence is a crucial aspect of a young child's identity and self worth. It is through this independence that they develop self-esteem and dignity. What she found was that this need was wholly unrecognized and unaddressed. Still today, this need is much ignored by many educational institutions and educational methodologies.
Independence is a central theme in every environment at Miami Jewish Montessori, particularly the with our Toddlers. It is this independence that prepares the child for later learning in their preschool and elementary years.
The Toddler classroom is essentially a child's home away from home, and it is decorated and designed in that fashion. The room is divided into various subject areas. A child will find the shelves in the classroom lined with a multitude of materials designed to isolate specific skills for the child to develop. The child begins to acquire a sense of ownership for the room and everything inside it and consequently learns to love and respect. The shelves are adorned with plants for the children to care for, as well as family photos for each student. Since these classroom decorations convey a feeling of home they give the child a sense of comfort which helps the child establish trust and create secondary attachments to the teachers.
Children in the toddler environment begin their education through collaboration with their teachers. As the child's independence grows, that collaboration decreases until ultimately the child is working independently on a lesson. Unlike in the Primary and Elementary environments, Teachers in the Toddler classroom play a more centralized role in the classroom. Toddlers create deep connections with their teachers and learn that in this space they are respected and understood by the adults around them. This trust builds as they continue to work together and provides feelings of safety for the child. Because Montessori environments are mixed ages, often children will have the same teacher for several years which gives both the child and the teacher ample time to explore and deepen their connection.
Through Scientific study, Dr. Maria Montessori discovered that children, particularly during infancy and toddler years, express an inner need and desire for order. Order provides the Toddler with security and gives them a point of reference. They begin to learn where they can locate things they need which allows them to feel more at home and comfortable in their space. Although toddlers cannot maintain the order around them, they crave it. While in the environment the child will learn good habits for maintaining order, and will gradually begin to put things back. The ability to complete a work cycle, taking out a lesson, using it properly, and returning it back to the shelf, is one of the signs that a toddler is ready to transition into Primary.
Toddlers are more or less known for their "Terrible Two's" and tend to have a bad reputation for being egotistical, difficult to discipline, headstrong, and hard to manage. While all of the above is true, Dr. Montessori discovered that these behaviors were not purely acts of defiance, rather a response to a very active, very demanding life force in the child. She called this life force the Horme. The Horme is what propels a child forward. It activates, within the child, the curiosity and drive towards growth. It is often difficult for adults to pause and realize that it is the job of the child to actualize his/her potential, and it is the Horme which pushes them to do that. This discovery radically shifted how toddlers were perceived in the Montessori environment and led Dr. Montessori to educate teachers to observe what a child's Horme was pushing him/her to do, and then to ask them to do it. Rather than attempting to oppose this will, we look to channel it.