Making Montessori Work For Your Toddler


In parenting circles, ‘Montessori’ is very much the word of the moment, and it denotes ideas about wooden toys and playrooms that fit into the ‘Instagram’ aesthetic. But, far from being all about appearances, Montessori is actually a learning term coined back in 1907, when Italian physician Maria Montessori realised the importance of educational methods that build on how children naturally learn. 

Yet, outside of teaching environments, the vast majority of parents hadn’t heard a great deal about Montessori until a couple of years ago. Now, as well as being a teaching method, Montessori has become a lifestyle with a wide range of beneficial focuses, including –

  • Concentration
  • Independence
  • Daily routine
  • Self-regulation
  • Problem-solving
  • And more

In fact, with children from Montessori schools now famously performing better in everything from maths to literacy, most parents could benefit from considering whether this lifestyle and teaching option would suit their kids.

But, with so many parents implementing Montessori techniques from birth, many parents of toddlers or older children are left questioning whether they’re too late to jump on this bandwagon.

In reality, however, there’s no such thing as ‘too late’ to change to a Montessori methodology. In fact, while most experts state that kids will flourish best by adopting Montessori focuses before school age, many also argue that toddlers are perfectly poised to enjoy the benefits on offer in ways that newborns can’t. 

That’s not to say, of course, that parents who provide Montessori engagement from day one aren’t going to feel any benefit from doing so.

But, at this stage, play and outlook are largely interchangeable for the babies themselves. By comparison, children aged two and above are much better able to engage with Montessori methods. And, given that this is a self-learning focus, that’s fantastic news for success moving forward.

Far from thinking that you’re too late to get stuck in, then, it’s time to consider the following reasons why your toddler could benefit from this shift even now. 

A lesson in organization

In large part, the Montessori lifestyle hinges on an approach that does away with interchangeable plastic toys that kids get bored of in five minutes, and replaces them with creativity-inducing wooden kids toys that encourage critical thinking, creative play, and a whole lot besides.

Parents implementing this methodology typically minimize toy collections where possible, with a focus on an often-rotated basket of around 5-6 key toys each day or week. 

Ultimately, the benefits of this approach speak for themselves, ensuring that children have to engage more intensely with a few toys, using their concentration and creativity to keep things interesting.

That alone is a fantastic teaching benefit for kids of any age, but where toddlers are concerned, a lesser, more quality-focused toy collection has another pressing benefit for parents – it teaches organization without any of the battles. 

Let’s face it; there’s nothing worse than trying to get a toddler to clean the mass of toys that they can create in a day, leaving you standing on piles of sharp plastic all day long. By comparison, the naturally clean approach that Montessori offers ensure that even the most unruly toddler can’t cause a mountain of mess like they might have been doing until now. 

As well as helping your sanity, growing up in this generally cleaner environment can also help your youngster, teaching them to clean as they go, and making them far less likely to enjoy messy environments once they’re older. 

A step away from rewards

When we’re trying to get our toddlers to do anything (eat their dinner, behave at the store, etc.) many of us resort to star charts or rewards to encourage the behavior, and there’s certainly some evidence that these techniques can work in the short-term. After all, at this age, toddlers are always more likely to do something if they’ve got positive associations with that act.

But, the Montessori method steps away from this reward approach, even stating that verbal rewards should be kept to a minimum.

Why? For the very simple reason that rewards can often take away from the positive act itself. By the time they reach a certain age, toddlers definitely start doing things for the sake of rewards, rather than the benefits offered by the actions themselves.

And, when that happens, they can also start to withhold good behavior if rewards aren’t forthcoming, defining the phrase ‘creating a rod for your own back.’ 

Hence why implementing Montessori before that terrible habit forms is best.

This way, you can get in fast teaching your toddler the benefits of doing things for the satisfaction that they bring in themselves, rather than an imagined reward that may or may not come about as a result of said action.

As well as making your life much easier, this focus on inner reward over external approval is a fantastic way to start setting your toddler up for a life of achievement, all of which will be done for achievement’s sake. 

Instilling independent play

While babies are capable of and should be encouraged into independent play, their abilities here are obviously limited by imaginations that have yet to flourish and physical restrictions that keep them in one place.

By comparison, toddlers are far better able to approach problems creatively and, perhaps most pressingly in this instance, move around enough that they can pick their own toys and choose how they play with them. 

Despite this, many parents and existing learning methods continue to hinder the evolution of independent play by overloading choices and overshadowing playtime with adult ideals.

This can cause toddlers and parents alike to become frustrated, an issue that’s ever-more present the older toddlers get. Luckily, this is a conflict that Montessori stands to overcome altogether, and it does so by highlighting the importance and benefits of independent play. 

As touched on above, the important of organizing toys with a focus on quality over quantity can help here, but Montessori setups also come complete with a focus on understanding and accommodating each child’s learning style, as well as displaying toys at eye level so that toddlers can pick their own pieces instead of relying on you for every stage of play. 

Get ready for school

Remember, too, that Montessori is a lot more than the latest lifestyle trend.

It originally began life as a teaching method, and it’s still very much at the heart of what many schools do. There are Montessori-specific schools in the vast majority of areas at the moment, each of which aims to meet children where they are and encourage each of the skills highlighted here. 

Seeing as your toddler is quickly approaching school age, turning to Montessori methods now is the ideal way to both prepare them for the school environment, and to ensure that you select the ideal school to suit your ongoing parenting style. 

Montessori schools typically operate within mixed-age classrooms that highlight capabilities rather than expectations, and parents seeking the best option will want to consider things such as –

  1. Are the teacher’s Montessori trained?
  2. Are children encouraged to pick their own work?
  3. Are the rooms clean, orderly and spacious?
  4. How does the teacher interact with the children?
  5. How does the space feel to you?

Preparing your toddler’s space for a Montessori shift

If all of the above has tempted you into trying Montessori with your toddler, then it’s time to tailor your space with the method in mind. Obviously, like any other parenting ideal, everything Montessori might not suit your child or you, but, with its highlight on each child’s individual skills, there’s always room for adaptability. Some key implementations to consider for Montessori toddlers include –

  • Keeping toys and books on low shelves
  • Assembling toy selections based on seasons
  • Rotating a small selection of toys at any given time
  • Hanging artwork at your toddler’s eye level
  • Reducing clutter in your toddler’s room
  • Taking a step back during playtimes
  • Using Montessori methods in language development, potty training, and beyond

Make sure, too, to follow your toddler’s lead every step of your Montessori journey. If they don’t seem to take well to this shift in their learning, then you may be best off reverting to normal.

If, however, they thrive, then delving even deeper into Montessori parenting could be the best way for you both moving forward. 

Could Montessori be your toddler’s way forward?

Some dismiss Montessori methods as madness off the bat but, while they are different from what many of us are used to, studies have generally been favorable, suggesting that Montessori can help to improve your child’s psychological development and learning capabilities.

For toddlers on the cusp of major lifestyle changes, especially, implementing these methods can lead to notable improvements in behavior.

Even if you don’t want to go all out with Montessori-specific teaching, it’s therefore worth seeing how you get on with at least some of the theories and approaches discussed here. You never know; you could well find that this is the breakthrough you and your toddler have been waiting for.

Jeff Campbell

Jeff Campbell is a husband, father, martial artist, budget-master, Disney-addict, musician, and recovering foodie having spent over 2 decades as a leader for Whole Foods Market. Click to learn more about me

Recent Posts