Youngest Children's Community is a gathering of children from
eighteen months of age to three years who have established independent walking. Within a nurturing environment, a specially trained Montessori guide fosters the development of gross and fine motor skills, independence, and language. A sense of ownership of place and belonging within a community is cultivated through communal and parallel activities. These most profound and fundamental early years of life are protected and enhanced according to their characteristics and needs. Montessori calls this the second embryonic period, a time during which the human personality enters an historical and geographical milieu and is immersed in a particular culture. The child's individual essence differentiates and expresses itself as an emerging social being.
The Prepared Environment for the Toddler and Its Areas of Activity
Great care is given to provide an environment that is safe both emotionally and physically, that invites extensive exploration, offers hands-on activities, and engages the child in receptive and expressive language. The environment is designed for the child of 18 months (and walking) through the age of 2 ½ to 3 years. The child of this age is a sensorial explorer facing important developmental issues of separation and attachment, autonomy, and functional independence. A small, close, caring community, led by an adult who is educated and trained to guide them, gives the children the opportunity to follow the sensitive periods of this stage of development and accomplish its developmental milestones. Many areas of activity are needed for the child to satisfy the internal demands of this age. Activities concentrating on food, clothing, language, movement, the senses, and the hand are given utmost care in their provision because they are both of primal interest and core importance to the children.
The Esthetics of the Environment
The environment for toddlers must be beautiful and meticulously prepared because, at this age, the child’s absorbent mind functions unconsciously, taking in everything whole, without a filter, and making it an indelible part of the child’s deepest self. The human characteristics of intelligence, memory, will, independence, language, and movement are all rooted in what the unconscious absorbent mind experiences in the environment during this period of life. Every object, material, book, and picture is chosen with care and deliberation for placement in the environment. Every piece of furniture, container, dish, and artifact is lovingly selected.
Nothing in the environment is cartoony or kitchy, and no screen of any sort-- video, television, or computer-- is allowed in the children’s environment. Nothing broken or with pieces missing is allowed to be a part of it either.
A Fluid and Responsive Order
The physical, temporal, and interpersonal environment are flexibly predictable. Adult roles, sequences of events, and processes are sensitively planned to provide the child with the security and stability that foster their deep level of trust and sense of well-being. The child’s ability to confront the challenges of human development rests on this foundation.
Areas of Activity
The environment is organized into areas of activity that support exploration in areas of development, including sensorial and motor skills, language, food preparation and sharing, practical life, nature, gardening, and creative expression.
These activities allow the children to express their distinct individuality and to create in their own unique way. Materials for scribbling, painting, and modeling clay are presented for the children’s exploration. Listening to music of different composers and different instruments awakens and develops specific areas of the brain and stimulates emotional responsiveness. Singing songs together is a daily activity that strengthens the emotional bonds of the community.
Food Preparation, Setting the Table, Sharing a Meal, Clearing Away
The children enjoy preparing food to serve to one another, which enhances their feelings of loving and caring for one another. Children learn through experience, not through teaching. They very safely peel and slice bananas and avocados, spread cream cheese on crackers, and carefully arrange these for serving their community. They set two communal tables with tablecloths and embroidered place settings that show how to properly set the table, and they beautify them with vases of flowers. At around 10:30, when preparations are complete, six children sit together, with an adult joining them at each table. After the adults offer to serve them a tiny portion of each food, the children eat. They may then serve themselves tiny portions of seconds from the serving dishes, if they like.
The children who are still pre-verbal spontaneously make sounds with appropriate intonation, facial expressions, and hand gestures for requesting that dishes be passed to them, for responding to a request, and for acknowledging the receipt of the dish. Very young children understand one another and respond in kind. In this way, they build their receptive language and prepare for the explosion into verbal language.
Through these activities of participation in community life, the children develop an authentic sense of independence and belonging. They are awakened to their expanding powers and motivated to refine their skills. By activities such as peeling, slicing, spooning, pouring, stirring, and scraping, the children develop their concentration, focus, and fine motor coordination. The children have the opportunity to experience a whole activity and understand the sequence of steps that brings it to completion.
Practical Life Activities
Practical life activities give the children the opportunity to organize their motor activities in an individualized way to achieve a particular goal. These activities augment the children’s self-respect and support healthy autonomy. The experience of real work in the environment gives the children a way to increase their knowledge and understanding of the elements of their environment and the tasks they have observed adults performing. These experiences allow the children to inform and express their love for the activities and the objects in the world around them.
Care of the Self
The children enjoy having all the time in the world to wash their hands, wipe their
faces, hang up their wraps, change their shoes, clean their noses, button, snap, zip, and buckle their clothes. They receive as much or as little assistance as they need. From the beginning, the children wear training pants instead of diapers and start using the toilet in imitation of their peers.
Care of the Environment Activities such as arranging tiny vases of flowers, mopping up spills, watering plants, sponging a table, polishing mirrors, and washing windows give children of this age great pleasure and self-esteem. Authentic self-esteem comes only from within the child through meaningful action and experience in the world.
The out of doors is set up to fill the children’s need to connect with nature, tend to the outdoor environment, and exercise their large muscles. Different areas are designed and provided with specialized equipment to fulfill each of these needs.
Plants that have different leaf shapes, types of flowers, and habits of stems are cultivated to offer sensorial variety as well as to attract birds and insects. The children themselves fill the bird feeders and birdbath. Quiet places to sit and enjoy nature are planned so the children can sense their connection to the earth and sky.
Gardens of herbs, vegetables, and flowers allow the children to plant, weed, water, and harvest. The experience of “seed to table” informs and inspires the child.
Care of the Outdoor Environment
The children enjoy activities such as sweeping the stepping-stones, washing the birdbath, and gathering acorns.
Large Motor Activities Outdoor areas offer paths for scooter riding, small hills for running up and down, ball activities, ring toss, buckets and shovels for gravel, logs to step over, timbers to walk upon, stairs to climb, and a slide to go down.
Language is the joy of life both as communication and art. The adults model rich, precise, consistent, and clear language. They listen to the children with full attention.
Stories, Poems, Songs, and Chants
Every day the children gather together for stories, poems, songs, and chants. The richness of the children’s receptive language is seeded and cultivated so that the harvest of spoken language will be rich when it emerges.
The Question Game
The guide and assistant engage the child in conversation and extend it by asking questions that help the child organize thought processes.
The adults listen with rapt attention to the babbling of pre-verbal children and encourage its extension, knowing that the intention of meaning, intonation, and inflection practice will transfer to spoken language. Young children who are really heard during their pre-verbal communication explode into employing more sophisticated speech patterns and vocabulary. Even more important, their emotional development is supported by the experience of an interested and caring ear.
The guide and assistant engage the children in specific activities, as a group or on an individual basis, which introduce new words to the children. The activities are carried out with a sense of mystery, awe, and enthusiasm.
Sets of real-life objects, such as different types of fruits and vegetables, tiny baby clothes, and varieties of containers, are assembled in baskets, trays, and boxes that are rotated regularly. Various activities introduce these materials to stimulate language development.
Models and replicas of classified sets of objects, (each in an attractive box, basket, or tray), such as furniture, transportation, animals (farm, jungle, forest and sea), and musical instruments are rotated on the shelves and presented to the children for intellectual and language development.
Replicas and Matching Cards
Sets of classified models that match to pictures are rotated on the shelves to stimulate the child’s understanding of the step from the third dimension to the second, and to give the experience of classification.
A vast number of sets of picture cards representing objects in many different categories are rotated on the shelves in sets of ten. These sets are presented to the children as an introduction to the objects in their world and the words that name them.
Psycho-sensory Motor Activities
Children use their hands and their senses together to develop their intelligence. They construct themselves and their human characteristics. Children self-develop through direct, three-dimensional, sensorial and motor experiences. The shelves have a regularly rotating supply of
manipulative that challenge the child’s hands and senses, such as various types of puzzles, varieties of locks and latches, different types of containers that open and close in a variety of ways, and many distinct sets of objects to fit into containers.
Cutting with scissors, gluing, and stitching are set out and presented in a manner that allows the toddlers to explore and develop skills.
Through a series of stereo gnostic activities, without benefit of their visual sense, relying only on their muscular and tactile sensibilities, the children identify and name rotating sets of objects--- classified, matching, and random.
At Austin Montessori School, the infant (toddler) years are given the recognition and respect that their profoundly formative role in human development demands.