How “practical” is it to have a toddler clean up after snack time or sweep the floors when an adult can do it faster and more efficiently? You may even be thinking, “shouldn’t my child be learning numbers and letters rather than watering plants and cutting strawberries?”
Here’s what to remember about your child’s development: A child does not run before they can walk or walks before they can even pull up to stand. For those milestones, we accept that we can’t rush their natural development. Sure, we can assist by giving them opportunities to be active and ample tummy time. Still, mostly, we need to prepare their environment and wait for natural physical development to unfold. We learn to follow our child’s’ lead, and soon enough, they will typically learn to roll over, crawl, walk, and run in a natural, effortless way.
Research shows that the same is true for a child’s cognitive development. For a child to be developmentally ready to learn the alphabet, they must first be able to sit still, control their body, and concentrate for extended periods. They also need to be able to connect the letters to something in their environment that makes sense to them. Before that happens, a child may be able to say her letters, but she has no idea what they mean.
That is why, before we introduce children to abstract concepts such as letters and numbers, we work on mastering practical skills like concentration and focus.
In a Montessori environment, children are encouraged to learn to write before they learn how to read. They learn phonetically. As children begin to grasp writing, they start exploring the sounds that form a basis for reading. Later on, a child can relate those phonetic sounds to specific letters.
There is no rush to get toddlers to learn the alphabet before age 3. I am not saying they won’t learn their letters — they will. I know this can feel a little strange, but it can also be quite freeing to realize that, as parents, we don’t have to work so hard in this early stage when it comes to letters! We can focus on preparing our child’s developmental environment for optimal learning and let our children take the lead. Letters, numbers, reading, and writing will all unfold at our child’s pace after mastering the skills that make learning possible.
Practical Life activities
These activities teach children how to be part of the world around them while preparing them to achieve educational goals. Also, your toddler is mastering abilities like sitting still and concentrating. We use Practical Life activities such as cleaning up after snack or cleaning the windows to support these goals.
These activities teach your child the skills he needs for day-to-day self-care and caring for his environment; it also lays the foundation for more advanced learning.
Letting young children do things themselves is hard sometimes. But to build independence, self-esteem, and body control, children must be allowed to make mistakes. Spilling and making a mess while trying a new task is just part of the process. It is up to us adults to slow down and be patient, not get stressed about the mess, and let children figure it out. It is then that we will see independence and problem-solving skills develop in our little ones.
When children work in a Practical Life area, you may also start to see their need for order and repetition emerging. Order and repetition are an essential part of a toddler’s learning. These lessons develop concentration and focus that will help them later — for example when they are learning to read or understand math.
Having a few items within your child’s reach ensures he can work independently in his environment. Also, providing a learning tower, stool, or safe chair is one way in which you can effectively foster independence at home. One thing I will caution you about is that some towers have a chalkboard on the side. I do not recommend these — why teach a child to write or color on furniture? But in general, the tower is very useful in the kitchen, as children are very interested in what you are doing and want to watch, or even help.
“The exercises of practical life are formative activities, a work of adaptation to the environment. Such adaptation to the environment and efficient functioning therein is the very essence of a useful education.” — Maria Montessori