What Montessori Parents Do Differently - Autonomy In The Home Environment
Nut / Bolt and Screw Type Activities - for Toddlers to Preschoolers

How to help a toddler - the Montessori way (in our home at 16 months)

Otto brushing his teeth at How we Montessori 16 months

Otto is sixteen months old, so he is quite a young toddler. He is steady on his feet but there are still many things he is doing for the first time like learning to mop the floor or put on his own shoes. He is fiercely indepenent and wants to do everything himself, but of course he doesn't always have the skill, height or strength to do everything and often needs help. How do we balance the child's need for independence and our need to provide assistance?

  • Set the child up for success - think ahead, plan and observe the child. This goes for every aspect of their day from getting dressed to brushing their teeth, how can we make the task as easy for the child as possible? If something doesn't work today can we make changes so it's easier for the child to do tomorrow?
  • Make sure tools are child size and easily accessible. This will make every task easier for the child and reduce frustration. 
  • Rethink clothing, ensure clothing is not going to be a barrier to success, it needs to be not too tight and not too loose, easy to pull up and push down.  
  • Provide only as much assistance as the child needs to complete the task. For example the child might have difficulty putting their shoes on, rather than take over we can assess what the problem is, perhaps we can loosen the opening, then the child can independently slip their foot in.
  • Ensure the child has the time and space to do the task, often it's all that is needed, young children are often stressed when rushed, or it's when we rush them that we hear "I can't do it". I've found that rushing my children actually makes things take longer, this applies to older children too.
  • Have a routine that will support independence into the future. If you have a routine the child can predict what is going to happen next and it's easier for them to fit into that routine, for example getting the bath ready they know they need to undress, dirty clothes go into the hamper, every night the child sees the same thing and when they are ready they will start to participate, for example put the clothes into the hamper or sit down and put their legs out to get undressed, or raise their arms if you undress them the same way. 
  • From birth have an ordered home, you may be surprised what you infant or toddler is observing, Otto was barely walking at thirteen months and once surprised us by collecting a cloth from the kichen and wiping up his own spill. From cleaning cloths to brooms, shoes, clothes everything must have a place, the child needs to know where to find things and things need to reliably be there.
  • Follow the child's cues, I'm thinking toilet learning but also with eating and sleep. The child is more likely to be successful if they are doing these things according to their natural timetable, not the adults. 
  • From birth do tasks 'with' the child not 'to' them. It is important that the child is an active participant in their care from the start. We also want them to participate as much as possible. 
  • If the child expresses frustration (Otto will often do this with a loud scream) stay neutral, look where the problem is, don't jump in and rescue, be supportive and warm but non-emotive (don't show your frustration), use positive language "I can see that your cup is up too high, I'll move it, here it is." Sometimes the solution may be simple but the child isn't seeing it, help them to identify the problem.
  • Start from birth and build skills as the child is able. Rather than teach a two year old to put their shoes on, we can teach a one year old to sit on the little chair, open the shoe and slip their foot in. It's a gradual step by step process that takes place over the child's toddler and even preschool years. 
  • Do as much as possible at the child's level from the start. Once the chid is sitting we can have them sit on a little chair for dressing, if we put them up on a dresser, a table or in our laps they are less able to participate and the entire set up will need to change before the child is able to do it independently. 
  • When caring for the child move slowly, as child is better able to participate. If you make slow and deliberate movement for example when undressing the child they may be able to move their bodies to assist, if you rush and pull their jumper off quickly they have not time to think let alone participate. 
  • Don't interupt or break the child's concentration, if they are trying to do a task but failing wait for them to realise this and ask or look for help, we must allow the child to problem solve as much as possible. 
  • Mistakes, spills are never a negative, don't make a big deal out of them, don't use negative language around them, they are learning opportunities. We don't want our children to be afraid of failure or afraid of trying. If a child is going to learn to pour a drink (at 12 months or at three years) there will be spills and water on the floor, children can only learn to refine their movements through practice. 
  • Don't fix or insist on perfection. Embrace imperfection. When baking Otto's cookies are cute but uneven, when he puts his baskets back on the shelves they aren't always straight, sometimes he puts his coat on the wrong hook. We want to support and encourage the child's participation and if we fix or insist on perfection the child may resist doing the activity or feel they are not good enough to do it. 

Practical ideas that we use in our home at 16 months:

  • Child has a go first - useful for care of self activities like brushing teeth, washing or even wiping their bottom after using the potty. Even if the child can't complete the task adequately we allow them to start, if we always do it for them they don't have a chance to learn. Otto will brush his teeth first and then I will have a turn and brush his teeth making sure they are clean. 
  • When dressing put the child's legs through their training pants or pants/leggings and allow the child to pull their own pants up. Sometimes I can really open the legs of the pants and Otto will push his legs through. 
  • When undressing I will pull the sleeves off Otto's arms but will allow him to pull the top off and over his head. I will help pull down the pants and hold them down while he will either step out of his pants or sit down and pull his legs out of his pants. At this age the child is more than able to be able to participate in both dressing and undressing. 
  • Allow the child to use a tissue and cloth napkin and allow the to wipe their own noses and mouth after eating. At 16 months Otto can't self identify he needs to blow his nose but he can adequately blow his nose into the tissue and only rarely needs help with wiping. 
  • From six months we allowed Otto to have his own spoon of fork in his hands while we fed him (although often he would still use his fingers, which is fine). Otherwise he would fight for our spoon or fork and the meal would end in frustration because either he had the spoon or fork or he didn't get enough food in his mouth. Slowly he started using his spoon and fork more and we used ours less. 
  • Standing nappy changes and (cloth) pull ups, reduce a lot of frustration as the child is able to participate and not feel so useless and vulnerable as a child lying down, it's one step closer to toilet learning. We started staning nappy changes once Otto was able to stand independently and more so once he was walking without support. 
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