Toddler House: Nurturing Curiosity and Exploration

An Inly Parent’s Perspective by Rachel Rich

Each morning I drop off my two toddlers to Inly’s Toddler House teachers. My girls are two and three years old. Instead of separation anxiety, clinginess, and tears, there is almost always a sense of joy and excitement when we arrive and part. I love that when I drop them off they are greeted by their teachers outside on their playground. After letting go of me, they transition to them and then to play. It doesn’t matter what season it is, they always (except in extreme weather situations) start their day outside with loving teachers and free play. I also love that when I pick them up each day at 11:30, they are again outside playing. It’s hard some days to peel them away from their play and friends. It’s really quite a lovely daily experience.

Toddlers begin and end their day on the playground.

Our family has had several day care experiences for our children over time and we are grateful that they have all been positive. However, none of them have quite stood up against the beautiful, purposeful, and child-focused design of Inly’s Toddler House Program. Here they are truly allowed to be children living in a child’s world while becoming increasingly independent, refining their gross and fine motor coordination, developing sensorial awareness, improving their  ability to express themselves, practicing grace, courtesy, and practical life skills, engaging in play, and learning to feel safe and secure in a relaxed toddler centered environment. Each day I drop them off, I know that their developmental needs are being met by committed, nurturing, and talented teachers who find joy in this particular stage of child growth.

I had the opportunity to pick the brains of the Inly’s Toddler House teachers to discover the pure gems of the program, delights they receive daily from our children, and honest advice for  parents when we are in the trenches of toddler rearing at home. Here are their insights.

What is your favorite thing about this age group?

“I love their love of life and laughter. Children have such wonderful, unique personalities which shine through from an early age and it is so fun to see the world through their eyes.”
–Stephanie Roine (TH3)

“Everyday is like opening a present, something new happens almost daily for toddlers as they discover themselves and the world around them.”
–Sarah Halkiotis (TH1)

“There is so much I love about this age. I love how they have an innate desire to learn. Their curiosity and determination is amazing to observe!”
–Sarah Dolan (TH2)

“I love how funny and observant they can be, and how they look at things with such optimism.”
– Kate McKelvey (TH1)

Access to a variety of engaging books helps toddlers develop a love of reading and promotes language development.

How does the Toddler Program teach language?

At this age, conversation, labeling, naming, and verbal communication are the most valuable tools in the environment for language instruction. Exposure to the sounds, nuances, and conditions of language are unconsciously and readily absorbed by the child. Children engage in singing popular children’s songs. They practice holding and listening to conversations rich in dialog with their teachers and peers both independently and guided. Repetition, singing in unison, labeling everything in the classroom, and listening to stories read aloud also play an important role in the development of language. Teachers name and discuss everything, speak quietly with purpose, gently with compassion, and directly without confusion. Through each learning cycle over the year, new vocabulary is introduced through specific learning activities that are designed to help toddlers encourage expression.

A toddler practices a “pouring” work, which helps develop fine motor control.

What are some of the important focuses of the Toddler Program?

Important focus points of the program include learning the work cycle pattern, developing concentration and respect, and building independence. The work cycle pattern includes choosing a work, doing the work, and putting the work away. A “work” is a purposeful activity that engages the child’s mind and promotes appropriate development. This practical life skill prepares them for the more involved works that take place in the upper levels and teaches them the value of respecting the materials and their fellow classmates by returning the work to a state where it can be used again by another friend. To facilitate concentration and respect, teachers focus on emphasizing turn taking, the use of natural consequences, and community lunch. Children bring their own lunches to school, but eat together at a table. They set the table, practice table etiquette, and clean up after themselves. To facilitate independence, the environment is structured so that the children have the freedom to explore. They are provided materials that are toddler sized and easily accessible. Teachers conduct demonstrations and offer simple lessons for learning basic procedures, self care, and care of the environment.

Toddlers learn to be independent and responsible in a carefully prepared Montessori environment.

What are the end results for a child who participates in the program?

The program is designed to help toddlers safely and freely explore their world. It is a period of growth and development known in Montessori practices as the period of unconscious absorbent creation. Toddlers are taking in and processing freely and unknowingly everything around them including language, speech habits, mannerisms, and social protocols. By participating in the Toddler House program children learn language from a variety of stimulating materials as well as how to express their wants, needs, likes, and dislikes. As they learn to complete a work cycle, they build their self-esteem and boost their confidence. They develop an awareness of other children and begin to develop empathy as they learn to recognize their own feelings and emotions. The Toddler House Program is designed to lay the foundation for children to feel safe, secure and capable. While exposure to cultural content, science, spanish, art, music, and diversity are part of the curriculum, the end results lie in the healthy and balanced development of their sense of self.

With each action a child is trying to communicate something that they may not have words for yet. It is our job to give them that language in the most caring and respectful way possible.”

Melanie roake, TH3 Teacher

What does social-emotional support look like in a toddler classroom?

The child’s emotions are always respected and validated through labeling and discussion.

When a child is crying a teacher might say something along the lines of, “I can see you are crying. When I cry I am sad. What is making you sad? What is something that can help to make you happy?” When a child’s emotions are noticed they often feel validated and heard. The same approach is used when a child is frustrated. Maybe the child just yelled or threw something. A teacher might respond with,  “I see you just threw that toy. That’s showing me you are frustrated and mad.” Depending on the situation a child could be offered a hug, verbal comfort  or redirect that frustration into something that they can throw or kick. The redirect might be offered with the following words,  “Would you like to go outside and throw and kick a ball? Because we can’t throw that toy, if we do, it could break.” Teachers physically meet the child’s level by sitting, kneeling, or squatting so they can talk them through what was seen as if they were sportscasters observing the actions of the child(ren). Validating their feelings verbally is important for teaching toddlers emotional recognition. Eventually, they will have the language to verbalize how they are feeling rather than acting out their emotions. According to Toddler House teacher Melanie Roake, “With each action a child is trying to communicate something that they may not have words for yet. It is our job to give them that language in the most caring and respectful way possible.”

What are your favorite books for this age group?

  • “I Wish” by Penny Johnson —Melanie Roake (TH3)
  • “Everyone Poops”  by Taro Gomi —Sarah Halkiotis  (TH1)
  • “Goodnight Moon” by Margaret Wise Brown —Gillian Wasner (TH2)
  • “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” by Bill Martin Jr. & Eric Carle —Sarah Dolan
  • “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” by Helen Oxenbury & Michael Rosen —Kate McKelvey

What parenting advice or tidbit do you have for the toddler parent?

“Toddlers are so capable of understanding us and functioning with less help than adults give them credit for.” —Kate McKelvey (TH1)

“If you can, prepare a child’s environment by having items their size. They will be much more successful in developing everyday life skills. Allow for extra time in the morning to let them try to put on their own shoes and jacket. Always show them how, and try to avoid doing it for them.” —Melanie Roake (TH3)

“From the words of Maria Montessori, never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.” —Sarah Dolan (TH2)

“The toddlers just need love. They are still new to this world and need your love and guidance.” —Stephanie Roine (TH3)

“Patience, consistency, and a sense of humor.” —Sarah Halkiotis (TH1)

“Each child develops and progresses differently and at their own pace.” —Gillian Wasner (TH2)

In the fall, a pumpkin provides an ideal surface for inserting small pegs into, developing fine motor skills. Toddlers choose their own work and are responsible for carefully putting it away.

Do toddlers do whatever they want all day?

Contrary to popular myth, Montessori children have structured days designed to meet age appropriate developmental periods. It is during the Montessori work cycle where children are free to choose a work or engage with materials they have been introduced to. The length of time spent in this time is level dependent. In the Toddler House program at Inly, children begin their days outside on the toddler playground. When they enter the classroom with their teachers they typically spend an hour exploring the classroom, choosing works (purposeful activities) to engage with independently or with peers, practicing self care, and learning to care for their environment. The work cycle pattern (choose a work, complete a work, put away the work), cleaning up after oneself, and fundamental practical skills (pouring, washing, scooping, planting,) are reinforced during this time. Depending on the day, children may have Spanish, Music and Movement, Nature Studies, or a class lead circle of songs and stories. From classroom time, children move on to snack where they practice grace and courtesy by washing their hands, helping to set the table, eating together, and cleaning up their space. Toileting time is built in for those in diapers (while also done as needed throughout the day). Children are then back playing in the fresh air, engaging in free play, working in the garden, or developing their fine and gross motor skills. If a child stays after lunch, they will have a family lunch and rest time before being picked up for the day.

Toddlers explore at their own pace in a calm, loving environment.

The toddler day is filled with exploration, opportunity to practice healthy expression, and practical life lessons. They are supported and nurtured by an amazing and talented team of teachers who have a love and appreciation for this age. My daughters miss their teachers when they are not at school, express joy when talking about their friends, and genuinely love going to school each morning. I’m in love with the Toddler House program and its ability to bring out and nurture the innate desire for learning that is so ready in our children to be expressed.

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