Friday, May 03, 2013

Fostering Independence in Toddlers the Montessori Way: Limited Choice and Other Tips

namc montessori developing independence in toddlers girl with low shelf limited choice

The idea of independence in toddlers may seem oxymoronic. How can a toddler, who is not that removed from infancy be independent? In fact, many parents often bemoan the rapid growth of their young child: “If only she could stay a baby forever.” There is no way around it — babies soon become toddlers. And knowing how to nurture happy, independent toddlers makes life easier for all involved!

Nurturing Developing Independence in Toddlers Using Montessori Values

“I can do it myself”

Have you heard this? Then you must know a toddler. Toddlerhood is the time of learning new skills independently. A toddler is easily frustrated by both lack of skill and adult interference. To help foster these skills and minimize interference, try the following:

  • Allow extra time for self-care tasks (dressing, putting on shoes, brushing teeth, etc.).
  • Resist the temptation to jump in and complete the task for the toddler.
  • Offer gentle suggestions that may ease the task: “Try sitting down to put on your shoes.”
  • Use low shelving for books and toys, so the toddler can retrieve the items herself and be able to help with clean up.
  • Provide toddlers with child-size furniture, utensils, and tools.

namc montessori developing independence in toddlers girl working with nesting dolls limited choice


A friend of mine said to her toddler, “Let’s go to the park to play.” She was surprised when her daughter gave her an emphatic, “No!” She wondered why her daughter suddenly did not want to go to the park. It was not that her little one did not want to go; it was that she was not given a choice. Toddlers, like adults, need to feel like they have some control in their lives.

  • Refrain from asking the toddler yes/no questions. For example, rather than asking if the toddler wants lunch, ask, “Would you like a sandwich or cheese and crackers?”
  • Offer limited choices. Have you ever been to a restaurant that had so many items it was impossible to choose what to eat? Being given too many choices is overwhelming, especially for someone just learning to make decisions. Instead of asking what the toddler would like to wear, ask, “Would you like to wear the dinosaur or fire-truck T-shirt today?”

Allowing simple, age appropriate decisions not only helps toddlers develop their independence, it also reduces temper tantrums. The toddler’s lack of verbal skills can prohibit her from adequately expressing her needs or desires. When this happens, she is likely to express her frustration in the form of a temper tantrum. Following the suggestions offered here and being flexible will help reduce the toddler’s frustration and will make a world of difference to you both.
As much as possible, NAMC’s web blog reflects the Montessori curriculum as provided in its teacher training programs. We realize and respect that Montessori schools are unique and may vary their schedules and offerings in accordance with the needs of their individual communities. We hope that our readers will find our articles useful and inspiring as a contribution to the global Montessori community.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Friday, May 3, 2013.


  1. I like this article, it is wonderful for parents and teachers that spent a lot time with young children , good ideas,!


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