The Youngest Children’s Community – 18 months – age 3
The Youngest Children’s Community is a gathering of children from eighteen months of age to three years. 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 individual 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 Youngest Child
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.
The environment for toddlers is beautiful and is meticulously prepared to meet the need of the small individual, 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.
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.
Areas of Activity
The environment is organized into areas of activity that support exploration in areas of development, including practical life, the outdoors, language, sharing, sensorial and motor skills.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Cutting with scissors, gluing, and stitching are set out and presented in a manner that allows the toddlers to explore and develop skills.
At Austin Montessori School, the infant (toddler) years are given the recognition and respect that their profoundly formative role in human development demands.