Disclaimer: This is not intended to be a Montessori tutorial in any way, shape or form; but rather, this is intended to share how we attempt to incorporate our understanding of Montessori principles in a DIY-minimalist-eco-friendly-raggamuslim-kinda way. Proceed, if you wish.
In the first half of your toddler’s second year of life, there is a noticeable explosion in development. Maria Montessori often described this as the “stage of maximum effort”, usually occurring around 15 months. As that age approached, we were anxious to see Lil’ Z in this stage and curious to know what exactly it would look like. Would she be hauling heavy objects around the home or challenging her skill level by doing every task that makes us cringe? I guess the simple layout of our home removes certain possibilities because there are no low-lying, heavy objects to carry around or stairs to climb. The biggest challenge that Lil’ Z seemed obsessed with was the use of the mop and broom. Before she could walk, she would stand to get full-sized cleaning tools and proceed to push them around, alternating between standing and crawling. To nurture her in this transitional stage from crawler to walker, here are some of the Montessori elements we tried to incorporate in our lives.
The Meandering Walk
We affectionately referred to this experience as the meandering sit, for Lil’ Z wanted nothing more than to sit on the earth, play in the dirt, and pick up little things. Montessori recommends that from the time your baby is walking steadily, long walks, without any clear objective and preferably with little to no boundaries, should be incorporated into their daily routine. This was a challenging phase to navigate. The immediate path to the nearby park is rocky with construction debris and broken glass. Lil’ Z would reach down from the sling but we often carried her to the park to let her loose there. At the park, she was liberated to explore but often sat. We were fine with her picking up rocks, twigs, and dirt but her attention was most immediately drawn to refuse: empty cigarette cartons, used phone cards, and plastic spoons.
At some point, Lil’ Z seemed confused. ‘When am I to walk?’ and ‘When am I to be held?’ Sometimes, our desires were contrary but there were just some environments and circumstances where we thought it unsafe or impractical to let her toddle on her own. For the sake of safety and sanity, at times we needed to hold her–irrespective of her wishes–and did so until her judgement and gait improved.
After walking, climbing stairs is the next feat to tackle. There’s a great Montessori stair that’s built to scale for toddlers, commonly used from 10 months to 2 1/2 years old. For us, we made visiting the park part of our daily routine where there are short steps to climb. It was amazing to watch Lil’ Z go from staggering on the steps while holding our hands, to using the handrails, to climbing up without even holding on. Once she managed those, we started climbing the staircases in our apartment building.
From the time your child can stand, it’s recommended to change their diapers while they’re standing as opposed to while they’re laying on their back. This was a tricky maneuver in the beginning but we got the hang of it. When your toddler starts to indicate an awareness and curiosity about toileting, they should be introduced to the potty and training pants. Our inner minimalists rebelled, considering we already had a collection of cloth diapers and didn’t see the practicality in buying anything else before underwear. Yes, training pants can be worn and removed independently by the child but we preferred to wait to invest in “big girl panties”. As a transition, we removed the waterproof cover from her cloth diapers while in the house, so we were more aware of when she relieved herself and could engage her in the clean-up process.
The phases of potty training were unpredictable. There were ebbs and flow of consistent cooperation during routine potty-tunities, clear indication of when she needed to go, obstinate refusal when we knew she needed to go, and everything in between. Oh, and let us not forget those fun false alarms, where you make all kinds of concessions to heed the call of “potty”, only to hear “no potty”. We talked through incidents with as little emotional attachment possible, but it was frustrating. Our rehearsed responses were old and repetitive: “Uh oh, you had an accident. Let’s go clean up. If you need to potty, say ‘Mama/Baba potty’.” Lil’ Z began to chime in the requiem.
Ideally, the transition to training pants should be seamless, even through the night. Cloth diapers should be put away and all the necessary accommodations for your toddler to participate in clean-up should be made, even if accidents are expected during the night. A waterproof pad can be placed under the bed sheets and a pail for soiled training pants and clean training pants. Also, clean-up tools should be readily available. We personally weren’t prepared for middle-of-the night clean-ups and decided to keep her in a disposable diaper or Pull-Up at night.
Self-Dressing and Undressing
As early as possible, babies should be involved in dressing. If you dress them in the same way with clear language, you’ll eventually find those little, chubby limbs stretching and folding on cue. Once the baby becomes an upright toddler, there is even greater opportunity to participate. It’s really important to be vigilant and not to remove agency from your child. Lil’ Z’s earliest efforts were pulling shirts over her head and removing her shoes.
Now that those little hands are starting to work as a team, it’s important to use them in purposeful action. For this there are great crafted Montessori activities like dropping round coins into a box with horizontal slots, easing discs onto pegs–both horizontally and vertically, opening an oversized lock with its key, etc. We had none of these items at our disposal but tried to innovate similar opportunities. We’d give her large discs to slide onto pegs that we held either horizontally or vertically. You can also make your own “coin dropping” exercise using checker pieces, for example, and a recycled plastic tub with a slot cut into the lid. Also, by letting Lil’ Z roam freely in our kitchen, she discovered some manipulatives on her own, like fitting lids onto pots and appliances. She also discovered that the circular insert of a blender lid makes a great first shape puzzle. We did buy a wooden puzzle with knobs and a wooden stacker for Lil’ Z but mostly relied on recycled items around the house and spontaneous ingenuity for the rest.
There’s a lot going on in your little person’s world right now. If you’re planning to introduce new routines, activities, and props in your toddler’s life, make sure the process won’t be stressful to either or both of you. We saw some really interesting young children in books and online doing some impressive stuff but had to work out what was best for us. If you don’t have the patience for all the possibilities a particular activity might entail for your child’s current skill and comprehension level, try reintroducing it in another month or two. You want to push the envelope, not tear it into shreds. What’s most important is that you observe your child and try to meet their needs in a loving, engaging, and orderly environment.
What are some of your favorite DIY efforts and activities for this age?