A “toddler” is a child in transition – a child with particular needs and abilities, which can best be aided through the Montessori toddler environment.
The environment is different from the preschool class because the child is in a different stage of development and exhibits specifically different behaviors. It is for these reasons that the toddler class exists and that specific teacher training is necessary.
The child between 18 months and 3 years is still very new to the world of sights, sounds and movements. He is in awe of the wonders of the object world, and his immature senses can be bombarded and overlooked. How different from the preschool child, who is interested in refining his senses and controlling his own movements.
Working with a child in this unique age and stage is like encountering a person from an unknown culture. He is a new arrival, a pilgrim, and a pioneer. And this “pilgrim” must first orient himself in an unfamiliar world and establish a sense of trust – trust in himself and trust in the environment. It’s a difficult task, since the child has no experience or training in the values and expectations of those around him. The purpose of the toddler class environment is to assist the child in this process.
As a child in transition, he has conflicting feelings. He experiences the pain of separation and the “push-pull” between the pleasures of oneness with his mother or primary caretaker, along with exhilaration of growing independence, sense of self and freedom. This is the “energy,” the dynamics of transition, which is quite different from the more centered child of the preschool classroom, who is inner-directed and practicing the activities of his culture through the love of repetition. For this reason, a separation environment is included in the toddler class, which would not be necessary in the 3 to 6 age group.
The toddler – a victim of his development, yet a prophet of the future, a reality of the present, yet a glimpse of tomorrow – has first a need for love, understanding and empathy. He needs information, logical limits, flexibility and support. He needs a physical and human environment, which focuses and responds to the rapid and conflicting changes of this age. The focus is not on curriculum, nor materials. This child is experiencing unusual and unique motoric attractions, which nature has set in motion to propel his attention and activity. This sets the pace, lays the foundation, and initiates the direction of the activities the child will pursue. It is with this understanding that a toddler class is developed.
Adults who work with toddlers must know how to nurture and to assist, when to withdraw and when to stand back with confidence. These adults must have developed a firm sense of trust in themselves to ensure their maintaining their own confidence as they share their lives with children in a constant change and equilibrium.