Playgroup / Pre-Nursery / Nursery 1
“These very children reveal to us the most vital need of their development, saying: ‘Help me to do it alone!'” -Dr. Maria Montessori
Maria Montessori described The Secret of Childhood as the existence of powers and potentialities within the child that previously were not known or were ignored by her contemporaries. The task of the teacher, according to Montessori, is to observe the child’s pattern of development and to provide what is necessary for the secret to be revealed.
Montessori proposed the idea of the absorbent mind, meaning that a child’s mind is like a sponge, busily soaking in everything from the environment.
During a sensitive period children experience a special sensitivity to a particular impulse or activity. During the first three years of life Montessori observed that children go through the sensitive periods for language, order, movement, and attraction to small objects.
The prepared environment is central to Montessori philosophy. The environment (the classroom or the home, as Montessori believed that education begins at birth) should be prepared to meet the needs of the child at that time and attract the child to the world; it should provide for learning opportunities that correspond to the sensitive periods. It should promote order and concentration, and should be child-centred.
Montessori strongly believed that all learning comes through sensory exploration, and therefore she promoted a multi-sensory approach to learning. She felt that children should have considerable freedom in developing according to their own unique nature, and that they would reveal that nature to adults.
The Toddler Community
Everything about this stage in your child’s development is remarkable, especially the keen attentiveness she has in the surrounding environment. To be a toddler is to be curious and Cheston Montessori provides a nurturing environment where her drive to explore independently can find a jubilant outlet.
We offer a prepared Montessori environment for children 18 months to three years of age. We assist children toward independence, social awareness, respect, and the development of motor skills and language skills. Maria Montessori asserted that human beings develop with the greatest intensity during the first three years of life; therefore, Toddler classrooms are designed to provide nurturance, security, and challenge in an orderly environment.
In the beginning of the school year parents are allowed to attend together with their child until the child is ready for a positive transition into the school environment on his or her own. This period of separation is different for each child and parent, and our goal is to meet the individual needs of each pair.
This gradual process promotes trust between children, parents, and teachers.
The Toddler Community school day begins with independent work and play in both the indoor and outdoor environments. Both environments are accessible for approximately two hours. Toddlers choose to work independently, in small groups, or with a teacher who guides as necessary. Midmorning, all children have snack, toileting, and circle time.
The children gather in small or large groups for snack time. They assist in the preparation of the snack and table setting. They serve themselves and clean up after themselves. Grace, courtesy, and table manners are modelled and encouraged by teachers. A pitcher of fresh water and cups are available to the children throughout the school day.
Music and circle time are an important part of the curriculum. At circle time we engage in musical activities, often using tapes, CDs, and various musical instruments. Circle time activities also include phonemic activities, movement and dance, stories, and songs.
For the last twenty minutes of the day, the class transits for dismissal. Those children who stay for lunch proceeds to the dining area to eat a meal prepared by the school or brought from home, followed by toileting/diapering/showering and additional independent work. The class then splits for departure and transition to nap/rest time.
In the afternoon or after their nap, children are engaged in more independent work. Another round of snack is given in the mid-afternoon.
The Toddler Community program includes a one-hour lunch. The children have lunch indoors or outdoors, as weather permits. The children may bring a home-prepared lunch in a container, and we encourage parents to pack nutritious foods.
At Cheston Montessori, your child will discover the freedom within structure that satisfies his developmental needs and facilitates his discovery of new abilities. An enormous amount of learning and change happens in this small amount of time. Children engage in the following curriculum objectives when they are developmentally ready to do so. The teacher’s role at this level is to “follow the child” and to take cues from the child’s interests and mental and physical development. This varies with each child. The Toddler Community facilities growth and activities in the following areas:
- Slowly acclimating children into the environment through the use of a Separation Environment.
- Promoting security and independence through clear and consistent boundaries and respect for children and their needs.
- Developing social values, independence, follow-through, group acceptance, cooperation, respect for self and others, and respect for the environment.
- Developing self-confidence and self-esteem in an environment that promotes independence.
- Providing opportunities to converse spontaneously with teachers and peers.
- Developing trust in the classroom community.
- Developing appropriate interactions with teachers and peers.
- Developing an awareness of the individual’s contribution to the group
- Linguistic development
- Promoting listening skills through stories, poems, nursery rhymes, songs, spoken social graces, and conversation.
- Building communication skills through exposure to language and opportunities for expressive speech.
- Auditory development
- Auditory discrimination: loud/quiet, same/different sounds of nature, daily life, and animals, etc.
- Receptive language: recognizing sounds, following directions, following a sequence of two different directions.
- Phonemic awareness: discriminating beginning sounds in words, rhyming words, syllables, etc.
- Visual development
- Visual memory and discrimination: recognizing colours, shapes, sizes, patterns, parts of a whole, and beginning letter and number recognition (symbols).
- Visual motor skills: cutting, stringing large beads, catching a ball, etc.
- Exploring spatial relationships such as long/short, big/little, etc.
- Recognizing quantity.
- Using finger plays and songs involving math concepts.
- Matching of number symbols to objects.
- Recognizing that symbols represent quantities.
- Growing awareness of one to one correspondence.
- Working with manipulatives to explore concrete concepts.
- Real-world opportunities to become aware of the natural world.
- Hands-on experience with weather, animals, plants, seashells, etc.
- Opportunities to care for (feed and water) plants and small animals.
- Experiences demonstrating our relationship to the natural environment (e.g., recycling, composting, harvesting vegetables from the garden which may be consumed by children or fed to pets).
Cultural/Moral Education/Social Studies
- Beginning awareness of community helpers.
- Beginning awareness of self and family.
- Celebration of holidays, seasons, cultures, and birthdays with songs, stories, etc.
- Materials providing sensory experiences, for example:
- Sand play
- Water play
- Rhythmic activities
- Musical games
- Music through body movement
- Art appreciation experiences.
- Exposure to various media such as clay, paint, chalk, crayons, pencils.
- Gross motor exercise: free play and planned activities in running, walking, climbing, jumping, rolling, and throwing.
- Fine motor exercise: pouring, spooning, bead-stringing, pasting, cutting.
- Activities and language of body parts awareness.
- Discussions focused on health, nutrition, exercise, safety, etc.
Care of Self
- Assisting with diapering and toileting skills, developing dressing skills.
- Body care such as blowing nose and washing hands.
- Storing and retrieving personal belongings in cubby.
- Respect for body and personal space of self and others.
- Body awareness.
- Appropriate methods of communication and defence of body, space and work.
Care of the Environment
- Completing the cycle of activity (e.g., replacing items from shelves, rolling rugs, cleaning spills).
- Care of outdoor environment: raking, gardening, etc.
- Self-awareness of impact on the environment and ability for positive impact (e.g., use of trash receptacles, recycling bins, turning off lights, etc.)
- Becoming responsible for the consequences of one’s own actions
TODDLER MORAL AND ETHICAL DEVELOPMENT
In the Toddler Community program we establish clear and consistent boundaries which show respect for children and their needs. Respect for self, others, and the environment are of utmost importance.
These values are modelled by teachers and discussed during group times. Children develop trust in the classroom community through respectful and appropriate interactions with teachers and peers, and moral and ethical behaviours develop naturally.
TODDLER EDUCATIONAL BEST PRACTICES
Teachers use anecdotal observations to monitor student progress. Based on these observations, decisions regarding materials and curriculum are made. We make very individualized educational decisions at the Toddler level, based on age and ability.
Goals and Objectives
Specific goals for the Toddler Program are as follows:
- To assist the child in a positive separation from parents in order to facilitate individualization.
- To provide an orderly environment in which Toddlers may explore and experience concepts and skills through manipulation and the use of all of their senses.
- To provide a language rich environment through precise nomenclature, music, materials, and activities.
- To give the child opportunities for practical life experiences, care of the self and environment, so that the child understands that each person has an important function. This encourages a positive self-concept and confidence.
- To provide a social environment for the fostering of community and respect.
- To create an aesthetically pleasing environment through artwork and objects from nature that call to the child’s love of beauty.
- To provide a supportive community for parents through education and participation in the school-wide community.
TODDLER INSTRUCTIONAL AIDES
The Toddler Community classrooms are foremost designed to promote independence, concentration, and a sense of order. Toddlers at Cheston Montessori have open access to the areas of the classroom they need (e.g., the toilet, the sink) and the materials they need (e.g., a broom, a watering can) in order to engage in daily activities in an autonomous fashion. They are able to access their personal belongings in a low-lying cubby area, in order to change their clothes as needed (e.g., after a toileting accident or a paint spill). Furniture is fit to the proper proportions for children to use (e.g., tables and chairs, shelves). There is a place for everything, and everything has its place.
Young children, especially, need the reliability and consistency of knowing where materials are located, and where to find what they need. They build a cognitive map of the environment as a whole and the individual materials in particular, which guides their daily actions within the environment.
The Toddler Community environments at Cheston Montessori, which are calm, simple, quiet, and safe, aid children in developing focus and sustained attention. They are beautiful and encourage the child’s exploration. There is not an excess of materials, as these only serve as a distraction. There are a variety of activities that interest and challenge children. The teachers carefully and frequently observe the children in order to decide when materials need to be removed, replaced, or extended upon. Materials increase in challenge as children become older and more capable. They need to meet the child’s needs, which change with each developmental stage. Less is more in a Montessori classroom because repetition leads to the development of focus.
While Montessori did not specifically design materials for use by Toddlers, there are certain types of materials which are key in a Toddler classroom. The materials move from concrete to increasingly abstract and generally isolate one concept to be mastered at a time. For example,
Practical Life activities include such things as dressing and undressing, taking off and putting on a coat, and using the toilet. Gross motor activities include sliding and riding toys (such as tricycles). Fine motor activities include nesting objects, vertical and horizontal ring posts, and hammering. Visual sensorimotor activities include geometric shape boxes and puzzles; auditory sensorimotor activities include simple sound matching and a music box; tactile sensorimotor activities include a mystery bag and geometric solids. Language activities include vocabulary cards, singing and reading books.
Imagine the Toddler Community…
Enter a bustling room, busy with young children working intently on an array of various activities. Despite the flurry of activity, there is an undeniable organization underlying the seeming chaos.
Careful observation reveals that each child, whether working individually or in pairs, is diligently and purposefully working on their chosen work. This revelation leads to seeing the room in a different way. The beauty of Montessori becomes clear. The organization of the furniture, the meticulous way in which the work on the shelves is placed, each contained in a natural basket or wooden tray, the different areas of the room that promote certain types of activity all promote different types of development.
Several children in the practical life area work on different activities that involve practical skills needed in life. A young girl has a bucket, soap, a sponge, a towel and a water pitcher set up in preparation to scrub a small table. A small boy stands at the floor-to-ceiling window with a spray bottle and squeegee in hand. After each spray and swipe with the squeegee, he methodically wipes the remaining streaks with a clean towel.
A tall girl sits at a table with several friends. They are all pouring, spooning, tonging, various dry objects and liquids from different types of containers on various individual trays. One of the girls spills a ladle of assorted beans, spilling them on the floor. She retrieves the dustpan and hand broom from the designated hook of the wall and sweeps the floor clean of all the beans. After putting the beans in the compost bin and returning the dust pan and broom, she joins her friends and continues perfecting the motions of successfully ladling the small objects. Practical life works allow these children to master the tasks that they see adults do on a daily basis.
This mastery includes exhaustive practice refining minute muscle movements and memorizing and internalizing the steps of each task. Even more significant than acquiring these physical abilities, the children are developing habits and standards of cleanliness and personal responsibility. All of this teaches the children the skills and cultural norms of daily life.
Two boys sit next to each other on individual small rugs in the middle of a large carpeted area of the room. At first glance it appears that both boys have chosen the same work of threading beads on a string. However, looking more closely, the difference in the works becomes apparent. One boy holds a square wooden bead in one hand and a thin rope in his other hand. He struggles to thread the rope through the hole in the bead. After several attempts he is successful. Beaming, he tries with another bead. With each bead he has less trouble guiding the rope through the hole. The other boy holds a smaller round wooden bead in one hand and a dark shoelace in the other. This boy’s work requires more refined muscle movements and hand-eye coordination. Although he is more comfortable and confident threading his beads despite the smaller size, he still fumbles a few times. When the boys feel a sufficient sense of mastery of the skill at hand, they each put the beads and string back into the baskets that held them and return them to the places next to each other on the shelf.
This is the quiet genius of the Montessori Method. Having two works next to each other on a shelf which work on the same skill set (albeit to different degrees of difficulties) allows the children to learn and develop at their own pace. Both boys are not only developing muscular proficiency and hand-eye coordination, but also more importantly developing concentration, determination, and internal gratification.
As a group of children prepare to go outside, they gather their shoes from their cubbies. A young girl struggles with her shoes. After weeks of practicing she is almost able to put them on unassisted. When it appears that she will need help, a teacher gently asks if she needs any help. Without even looking up she firmly states “No, I do it.” The teacher moves back but stays close by. The young girl continues struggling, repeatedly unable to push her foot in. Many minutes later she succeeds! Bursting with pride, she yells out “I did it!!”
These are the magical words of the Toddler Community. They signify the beginnings of true independence. The concentration and determination it took for her to put on her shoes helps build her character and strengthen her self-image.
This concentration and determination along with a series of successes, a strong internal reward system, and resilient self-confidence that results from her attempts at independence in dressing herself actually end up endowing her with crucial components of a strong foundation necessary for future success in life.