At this age, children delight in repetition, and in finding patterns and order in the universe around them. Remember the game of “peekaboo”? This game is fascinating for infants because they are just discovering the concept that something can go out of sight, and then come back! Toddlers are at the very next stage of development. It is thrilling for them to discover that two objects match, or that all the trays on the shelf line up in a perfect row. They love hearing familiar stories, songs and poems so they can chime in with the endings they remember. They crave order, and are reassured by knowing that each item on the classroom shelves always goes back to the same place. At this age if they learn to enjoy cleaning up and putting things away they will have a much easier time maintaining these good work habits through youth and adolescence. Along with the fundamentals of order, Montessori toddlers become familiar with the language and number materials that they will use in preschool. The Montessori phonics-based reading method, which produces amazing success by kindergarten, starts with early exposure and familiarity during the toddler years.
From infancy to childhood the child makes a huge transition. A newborn baby is completely self-centered. Unable to focus his eyes on the adults surrounding him, the infant can only cry to express his needs; he cannot yet give back to the adults who care for him, or talk to other children around him. The toddler is able to talk and express her needs, but still needs practice and guidance to understand that the other toddlers around her also have needs and feelings. Learning to share, to act politely and considerately, to use positive words to resolve conflicts - all these things happen during the early years of socialization. Through stories, maps and group lessons, Montessori toddlers are exposed to the idea that there is a whole wide world out there with lots of different people in it, and that they are young people in that world.
This is the theme that runs through all of Montessori education from birth to high school. A responsibility is an honor and a privilege. By trusting the child, first with small tasks like carrying a tray across a room, or serving a snack to the class, we show the child that we respect her as a human being. During Montessori independent work time, the teachers make sure that each child has a set of “good choices” from which to choose - and then they let the child choose what to do. Does the toddler want to match colors with the color tablets, or learn about size with the cylinder blocks? Montessori teaches the child to think and make choices. Practicing making decisions builds the young child’s sense of self-worth and prepares the child to make positive decisions even when parents and teachers are not around to tell him what to do.
A lifelong love of learning is a priceless gift. An elementary, high school or college student may know how to solve an equation or read an article, but if the older student feels only apathy and boredom, then all the skills he or she has learned in school are worth very little. On the other hand, some students who love learning, and are eager to read another page or build another project or do another experiment - because it is fun! To these students the skills learned in school are valuable gifts. They are the "keys to learning" - the tools that can unlock any door in life. If we at school are able to instill a sense of wonder and joy at an early age, then our children will carry it with them for a lifetime.