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How to Give a Toddler a Lesson - At Home

Otis cutting apple with crinkle cutter at 13-17 months

It goes without saying that the home environment is very different to the school or Montessori infant/toddler environment. Things can get messy, children can get distracted and often parents are tending to more than one child at once without any backup.

You don't need to be a Montessori teacher to give your child a lesson or demonstration. In the home, the child will need many lessons (or demonstrations) and you (the parent or caregiver) are the best person to provide them! If you mess up or if it just doesn't work out, give yourself a break, you can always come back to it in a week or in many cases much later. Don't think you or the lesson has to be perfect.

Lessons can be as simple as how to use the Egg and Cup, stacking or threading toys to pouring a drink, cutting a banana with a blunt knife or doing up buttons or sweeping. Ask yourself if a lesson is needed before putting out new toys and materials or trying new practical life exercises. Remember most children will need more than one lesson before they master the work, don't worry if the child doesn't remember how to do something and you need to give the lesson again.  

Keep these points in mind as there are times when the opportunity for a lesson can arise spontaneously, you may be working in the kitchen and suddenly your toddler wants to join in, perhaps they are ready for peeling, perhaps now is the perfect time to give them a lesson. 

Here are a few of my tips for giving a toddler a lesson at home:

  1. Generally speaking, pick the time when you and your child are rested and well fed. If possible choose a time when you can be your best self and give your attention to the child, keep in mind the lesson might only take five to ten minutes maximum. 
  2. If possible plan and even practice your lesson. I've found this most important with practical life, how exactly am I going to show him how to put his shirt on, which way am I going to show him to do his laces, which hand will I use to support the grater? Work this out before you present to the child. 
  3. Ensure you have all the materials you need and they are all in working order. You don't want to run off half way through because you have forgotten something, this can break the child's concentration and sometimes lose their interest. 
  4. Keep it simple. Use a clear work surface (remove clutter), only have out on the work space (table or work mat) the materials you are using for this lesson. Remove distractions (turn off the TV, put away the mobile phone). Keep the lesson as simple as possible. Remember the child is absorbing everything in their environment. 
  5. If possible work at the child's level. It's important that the child can concentrate on the lesson and not have to focus on balancing precariously on a kitchen stool or sitting at a table if the child isn't ready. Make sure the child is comfortable so the only thing they need to focus on is you! If working on the floor a little work mat can be useful. 
  6. Sit next to the child if possible, it's often recommended that you sit on the child's non-dominant side. The important thing is your child can clearly see and imitate your movements. 
  7. Try a wordless demonstration, this allows the child to focus on your hands, not on your mouth. Once the child has mastered the materials you can add some words and include a language component. 
  8. Use clear, slow, and deliberate movements. If you move too fast your child might not be able to keep up or process the movements. 
  9. Try to set up the work to flow from left to right. This will be in line with how your child is asked to work at (Montessori) school, but also prepares the child for reading and writing (also left to right). 
  10. Be calm and gentle. Be respectful. Be kind and be patient. Allow your body language and tone reflect this. 
  11. Don't worry or be discouraged if the child isn't interested in the lesson, wait and present it later, this is an indication the child isn't ready. Look for cues as to what your child is interested in and developmentally ready for. 
  12. Don't focus on perfection, it's not a reality. Your child will benefit from your efforts and after a few lessons, you will learn what your child responds to best. Your child will also become familiar with your teaching style!

Ask yourself if it's possible or suitable to have an older child present the lesson. Otis has struggled with tying his shoe laces and having his older brother demonstrate to him was really helpful. 

In the kitchen and with many practical life activities, I've found it best for the child to have their own materials and work along side me. For example, once the child has grasped the general concept of grating, they can use their child sized grater to grate along side me while we prepare dinner. This gives the child the opportunity to improve their skills (by observing) in a low-pressure environment and it also allows you to observe your child and perhaps see what areas they need help with. 

Teaching your child a new skill can be incredibly rewarding and can be a little moment in the day for just the two of you. It's also a great time to slow down and connect with your child. Let me know if you have any tips for presenting a lesson to a toddler at home!

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