Discover the Child

Discover the Child
"There is a tiny light in the unconscious of mankind which guides it toward better things." "We must follow the child, but we must follow the child as his leader." -Maria Montessori

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Talking With Toddlers: Supporting Critical Thinking

It is the time of the year to kick off Parent Education classes like our Talking With Toddlers and Setting Limits class at Follow the Child Montessori school. While the blog has take a back seat to the start of the school year and the time needed to prepare for these classes, I thought I could certainly summarize some highlights of the classes for this blog.

I'll work on posting a series of posts based on our Taking With Toddlers class that covers ways to support development and address needs. As parents notice the children happily listening at school, they they ask, "Can you just write down all of the things you say?" I can certainly do that, but we first have to consider the needs of the child and understand what makes these tinies tick before consulting the favorite phrases playlist.
Toddlers are actively developing and have a very strong need to explore:

  • Movement
  • Individuality and Sense of Self
  • Social Relationships and Emotions
  • Language
  • Cognition, Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Love and Security

I don't spend a lot of time talking with parents about how to develop a toddler's critical thinking skills, though we spend a lot of time at school working to support these skills. In fact, I don't think I've ever had a parent ask me a question about how to help her child learn how to think. I hear a lot of questions about toileting, sometimes questions about language and emotion, but never in the past 8 years has a parent asked me how to help their child learn to think. In part, that may be because we have a belief, albeit an incorrect belief, that skills like concentration, memory and attention, flexible thinking, problem solving, persistence and critical thinking are innate. In fact, these executive functioning skills or soft skills actually develop through a child's explorations and experiences from birth to age four. Yes, you read right, executive functioning skills are essentially set by age four! These skills take practice to develop and often some time and patience on the part of the parent.


  • Love and Security- A child cannot learn unless he feels physically and emotionally safe. Ofcourse, we must meet a child's basic physical needs, but we also must ensure we are consistently giving our children unconditional positive regard, connecting emotionally with our chidlren, and creating a loving and respectful environment 
  • Freedom of Movement- If your child is in a container (carseat or stroller) he is not connected to his environment and his exploration is limited. He also cannot control the amount of stimulation he receives.
  • Accessible Toys
    • Made of natural materials, if possible
    • No batteries
    • May contain some materials for self expression (like instruments, a few crayons or chalk and paper, etc.), sensory exploration (clay or clay with hidden objects), spatial exploration (building blocks or peg puzzles), and language exploration (real objects and replicas)
    • No more than 9 materials on a low shelf for one area of the home, rotate biweekly or when no longer interesting to your child.
  • Accessible Self Care
    • No more than 3  of each type (shirt, pants, socks etc.) of weather appropriate clothing items within your child's reach 
    • A snack choice available for your child to prepare and serve himself when he is hungry in the afternoon. 
    • A water source for your child to get her own water
    • Dishes within reach for your child to set his own place setting.
  • Purposeful Activities related to self care or the care of your home involve almost every area of functioning including memory, sequencing, order, language, sensory integration, motor planning, fine and gross motor development, social contribution and helping, perspective taking, and concentration. 
    • Consider what information your child may need including how to handle or hold objects. 
    • Acquire child size tools (
    • Have available at all times color coded cloths for table wiping and floor wiping, a dust pan and sweeper, a broom and sweeping guide and mop.
    • For more ideas read, "Images from a Montessori Toddler House"
  • Time

Recipe for Success

Once you have acquired all of the ingredients there are a few important steps to remember

1.  Don't Interrupt- You've worked hard to set aside blocks of time for your child to freely explore. Once he chooses an activity and he is concentrating. Don't interrupt! Concentration is a skill that requires practice to develop. Our world offers your child plenty of practice in distraction!
2.  Embrace and Rejoice in failure- Critical thinking requires your child to practice making her own judgments. When your child practices pouring his own water from a pitcher you can model how to pour, by silently modeling and using slow, deliberate movements. You can set him up for success by getting a small pitcher. He can only learn to pour by practicing over and over. Just like when he learned to walk, he's going to fall. It's a good thing you've got those cloths within reach and you've showed him how to wipe the table and hang up his wet cloth, because spills are going to happen. Learn to stay calm and smile in these moments of failure, because your child is learning some very important skills. 
3. Don't Praise and Don't Direct and Correct- When your child looks to you after she's completed something, she likely just wants to connect with you! Try describing what you see or repeating back what she says to you. Don't eclipse your child's own internal gratification and sense of accomplishment with your praise. 
4. Useful Phrases- Try these useful phrases: