Thursday, May 09, 2013

Montessori Encourages Toddler Independent Play: Facilitating vs Directing

“The environment itself will teach the child, if every error he makes is manifest to him, without the intervention of a parent or teacher, who should remain a quiet observer of all that happens.” —Maria Montessori, The Secret of Childhood.

namc montessori encourages toddler independent play child on shoulders pointing

In the previous blog on fostering independence with toddlers, we focused on giving limited choices and allowing the children to do more for themselves. After all, Maria Montessori said it best, “Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.” This same principle can be applied to play time.

Encouraging Independent Play in Toddlers: Observing and Following the Child


When my son was a toddler, his favorite toys were his trains. Rarely a day went by when he did not approach me asking, “Want to play trains?” Since I was learning about playing trains from him, I let him take the lead. As soon as I tried to insert any of my own ideas, I quickly was told, “No Mommy, that’s not right.”

Maria Montessori believed that the role of the adult is to be a patient observer of children. Their actions and words will tell us what they need. Often, an adult will join in child’s play and without even realizing it, assert their presence and control over the situation. I recently observed a young girl and her father at play.

Girl: Daddy, do you want to have a tea party with me?
Daddy: Okay. Here, I will sit here and pour and you sit there. I will have the blue cup and you have the flowered cup.

Girl: But Daddy…
Daddy: Wait…go get some of your dolls and put them around the table. They can join us and have tea, too.

namc montessori encourages toddler independent play tea party teddy bears

Sadly, the little girl left the tea party and did not come back; leaving Daddy to think she did not want to play. In reality, she did want to play, but she wanted to direct the tea party. Daddy had been invited to share, not to take over.

Sometimes, adults assert so much of themselves into toddlers’ play, they feel they must rely on adults to direct all their activities. To encourage more independent play, adults should function more as a facilitator. Rather than showing a toddler how to do something, sit back and watch the process of the child learning to do it himself. If the child comes to you and says, “Draw me a flower,” you can guide him in the process: “What kind of flower should it be? What color? Show me.”

Encouraging independent play and exploration builds toddlers’ independence and self-reliance. In time, they become able to keep themselves entertained and do not rely on adults to provide stimulation. In addition, watching toddlers play helps you learn more about them as individuals.

I am certainly not suggesting not playing with toddlers. Join in; have fun! But allow them to lead the way.
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 Thursday, May 9, 2013.

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