Fostering Independence in Toddlers
There is not a set age range defined as “toddler.” Some, like IMA, recognize it as early as 15 months, others define the toddler age as 1-3 years old.
The toddler program is the foundation of the Montessori method. According to Simone Davies in the book The Montessori Toddler, at this age the child genuinely loves learning, making discoveries for themselves, and coming up with creative solutions.
As parents and educators, we can use this natural curiosity to cultivate independence in children that will create a foundation for many years to come.
Benefits of Cultivating Independence in Toddlers
We all know how important it is to learn independence. Many people don’t develop full independence until they are no longer living with their parents or providers. With simple actions, we can instill independence little by little in children as early as 15 months to set a strong foundation and prepare them for their most formative years.
Here are just a few benefits of starting to instill independence at an early age:
- It can help with confidence. While others may seek validation before venturing outside their comfort zone, a child who has been trying new things for years will feel excited about the explorative opportunity.
- It teaches them to self-reflect and self-soothe. As parents and educators, we don’t want to let a child deal with major distress on their own. But with some independence, a child will feel like they have more control over their life, which will support them when stressful events occur.
- It fosters self reliance. From instilling independence, a child might not immediately seek help when their toy breaks, they might even try to put it back together.
- It builds resilience. Children who have been independently tackling new challenges for years (no matter how small) will be better prepared accept and learn from larger challenges
- It develops patience. A child who has not had the opportunity to challenge themselves may be quick to get quickly frustrated when facing a challenge. In the same vein as resilience, a toddler that has been challenged for months will be more patient in exploring and tackling a new challenge.
- It encourages strong decision making. This one is simple- a child that is allowed to make their own decisions will feel more confident in not only making their own decisions, but also in how they make their decision.
- It improves sensory motor skills. A lesser discussed benefit to having a toddler take on tasks that develop independence is- at the same time -the toddler is performing tasks that develop their sensory motor skills. From bending down to pick up their toys (developing balance) to opening a lid (understanding pressure), there are many hidden sensory developments that happen as a result of these tasks.
Five Ingredients for Stimulating Curiosity
- Trust the child. They are developing along their unique path, in their unique way, on their unique timeline.
- Create a rich learning environment. This does not have to mean expensive materials. Exploration in nature, dropping a chain or string into a cardboard tube, or sorting out some dried beans are simple, free activities that achieve this same purpose.
- Set aside time. Give the child time to explore. Allow time for movement. Allow time for language and conversation. And most importantly- be patient with the amount of time they take in tackling new challenges.
- Give them a safe and secure base. Helping a child stay physically and emotionally safe encourages them to be curious in the world. Set clear limits and step in when children are not making positive choices. For example, at IMA we use phrases like “gentle hands please,” or “walking feet” to keep them physically safe, while teaching them to use phrases such as “my body,” or “my space” when they feel overwhelmed or unsafe.
- Fostering a sense of wonder. Are we modeling wonder for a child? Do we allow them to explore will all their senses? Do we se nature to inspire a sense of wonder in our child?
8 Everyday Tasks for Toddlers That Will Foster Independence
- Carrying their backpack, waterbottle or toys
- Getting dressed-- from shirt / pants to shoes and jackets - at around 30 months, they’ll likely be able to handle it!
- Preparing (or helping to prepare) their food- from something as simple as opening a banana to cutting up their food (with a toddler knife)
- Pouring their own drink
- Kid-friendly chores
- Brushing their teeth
- Washing their hands
- Asking them to lead the way
Final Tips for Fostering Independence in Toddlers
- Be patient. Patience applies to nearly every point in this article. Let them set their own pace for accomplishing the tasks above -- helping is ok but try to let them do it
- Encourage hands-on learning. If they ask a question about something, let them explore it!
- Always* include them. *when it’s safe, include them in everyday tasks. Ask them if they want to help you wash dishes or make dinner.
- Instead of always giving the answer, ask a follow up question. For example- if a child asks “what is this for?” you may say “what do you think it’s for?” Even if they are totally wrong, they are learning to explore curiosity and possibilities.
- Give them choices whenever you can AND respect their choices. If they want to wear polka dots and stripes, let them! That’s what they feel happy and comfortable in, and they will wear it proudly knowing that they picked it themselves.
- Don’t be late. we don’t always have control, but if you have the control to set your alarm 10 minute earlier so that they can do something themselves- instead of you doing it for them, or rushing them through it -it will make a difference!
- Create a physical environment for success. Things like toddler-sized sponges; toddler-accessible chairs, tables, and shelves; and step stools to make adult things more accessible can help to create an environment that encourages kids to help and explore
IMA Fosters Independence in Toddlers
International Montessori Academy creates an environment in the early preschool classroom that is spontaneous, joyful, and purposeful.
Children demonstrate a sense of community and concern for each other. All the while, nurturing an entrepreneurial mind and spirit.
Independence is at the core of our program. We believe that it builds resistance and better prepares toddlers to accept and move on from failure so that they learn from their mistakes.
Materials will be broken. Friends will be hurt. These mistakes provide the opportunity to practice caring for the environment by cleaning up spills as well as being a part of a community and learning compassion and making amends.