The pitter-patter of their tiny feet, the shape of their little bellies, arms tightly wrapped around your neck, curious facial expressions, giggles and tickles, sloppy kisses, cheeky glances, one day you will miss them all, oh, so much. Just remember that next time he pulls your favorite vase off the table or after another exhausting day has passed.
I found that toddler years can be quite challenging because it’s the time when they are on the verge of shifting from total dependence to gaining freedom to move around, reach and grasp new objects and create all-new reality and adapt to new capabilities. This is the time when their emotional state is truly fragile and they rely on us, adults, to support, guide, and show respect when it comes to dealing with big feelings. This is also a time for discoveries and sensory explorations.
Often young toddlers can go through seasons when they suddenly become incredibly clingy, they want to be held and cry for any reason. Many may think (especially when it comes to boys) that the child needs to toughen up and adults intentionally ignore the child’s desire to be nurtured.
In moments when a child struggles to control their feelings and emotions, we need to remember that children flourish when they feel secure and confident. When we ignore their needs we take away that foundation.
We often hear that boys need to be toughened up so as not to be sissies. Parent toughness toward babies is celebrated as “not spoiling the baby.” Wrong! These ideas are based on a misunderstanding of how babies develop. Instead, babies rely on tender, responsive care to grow well—with self-control, social skills and concern for others.
Boys are more vulnerable to maternal stress and depression in the womb, birth trauma (e.g., separation from mother), and unresponsive caregiving (caregiving that leaves them in distress). These comprise attachment trauma and significantly impact right brain hemisphere development—which develops more rapidly in early life than the left brain hemisphere. The right hemisphere normally establishes self-regulatory brain circuitry related to self control and sociality. Source via psychologytoday.com
There are days when my little guy is Mr. Independent. He will explore, trip over, and get up without making a single complaint. On other days even a tiny hurdle turns him into a vulnerable little person with tears bawling out of his eyes. This sends a signal to me that today he just needs that extra attention and extra tight cuddles.
Generally, young toddlers want to pull, flip, switch, grub, and test everything, but all this comes out of the desire to investigate and study their world. One thing I found is, yes, there are ways to channel that energy and prepare all sorts of ways to engage the child.
However, it won’t really stop them from wanting to flip that light switch 10 times right after. One of the tricks is to support a young toddler’s desire to move around is to make sure that their environment is well set up and equipped to satisfy their desire to experiment.
“It begins with a knowledge of his surroundings. How does the child assimilate his environment? He does it solely in virtue of one of those characteristics that we now know him to have. This is an intense and specialized sensitiveness in consequence of which the things about him awaken so much interest and so much enthusiasm that they become incorporated in his very existence . The child absorbs these impressions not with his mind but with his life itself.” Maria Montessori “The Absorbent Mind”
Young toddlers strive to achieve their independence, and a carefully prepared environment can assist them and set them up for success. That means:
- strictly limit the number of toys available at a time, create the rotation system by replacing materials and toys on a regular basis – once the child loses interest;
- make sure that everything is safe to discover ( they will go a million miles per hour and they will break anything that is meant to break when thrown against the ground and banged on the table with a great force that only toddlers possess);
- low shelving and furniture will help them achieve success and feel valued as their environment is carefully prepared according to their abilities;
- set up space and place for whole-body movement – easily done outdoors on the playground with areas where they can freely climb and crawl
Pikler Triangle Climbing Frame by Eco Activity Toys
Wooden Children’s Rocker/Bridge Toy by 4th Avenue Woodworking
An unobstructed walk outdoors is crucial for them. We can’t possibly provide all sorts of textures and smells in our homes. Nature has it all organized for us making our job much easier. There are shapes, numbers, and colors, all in a perfect setting, in perfect combination and arrangement. In nature even the little ones learn that rocks sink, trees have leaves and trunks, birds can fly and insects eat leaves. Imagine how many hours of preparation, shelf arrangements and material printing it all would take if we were to teach these at home. At this age, children tend to throw things across the room. Well, outdoors is a perfect place to throw as many rocks and sticks as it takes to satisfy their curiosity.
Speaking of throwing. One of the main reasons for the child’s obsession with throwing objects is the fact that at this age they are fascinated with the principle of cause and effect. They are becoming the masters of their own bodies and they are desperate to test every single object. Funneling this energy will help tremendously:
Rolling a ball across the room or down the slide, also kicking and slapping is a great way to engage in play with young toddlers.
The majority of Montessori toys for toddlers will create perfect opportunities to discover what sorts of effects are followed by the child’s actions. These are some examples:
- Montessori Object Permanence Box – gives the child the perfect opportunity to observe the cause and effect – the ball keeps coming back to him after disparaging into the hole for one moment.
- Object Permanence Box with drawer – provides a similar experience plus requires the child to pull the drawer in order to reach the ball.
- Imbucare Box with various geometric solids – it’s a great way to develop a child’s grasp, coordination, and visual perception skills, and again, teach that things don’t just disappear, solids there permanently there even if we don’t see them and indirect way to introduce different shapes.
- Montessori Box with Bins – this is very easy to make at home, however, this material is one of the most favorable among toddlers. They will love to surprise themselves by placing objects inside, opening and closing it many many times.
Pull and push toys are generally popular ones as well.
Montessori Materials Geometric Insets Shape Puzzles – just another addition to a Montessori collection for young toddlers that they seem to love to interact with.
Wooden Walker – you can leave your little one just with this one toy and some blocks for the rest of the day and they won’t need anything else. Different variations of it are absolutely loved by every single one of the little people I know.b
Realistically you may like to purchase one of two of these materials for your child and not all of them. You also are very likely to find tools to make similar materials at home.
“It is after this that the child, who can now walk and feels confident of his strength, begins to notice the actions of those about him, and tries to do the same things. In this period he imitates not because someone has told him to do so, but because of a deep inner need which he feels.” Maria Montessori. The Absorbent Mind
At this stage in life, children enter the phase of what I would call truly transfer from being into becoming. Independence is something children at this age will fight for. I found that it is crucial to follow the child’s lead and support their attempts to do everyday tasks on their own. For example, I observed that my little one took a bread knife and tried to cut a piece of bread with it. It looks awkward and, needless to say, at this age, he wasn’t successful.
Supplying him with a knife that is more age-appropriate solved that issue. However, one easy trap to fall into is to give them everything they are trying to do. Remember, they absolutely adore you and think you are the coolest person in the whole world. They literally want to copy your every action. It is easy to fall into a trap by having the noblest intentions to follow the child. However, another important aspect is that everything that we offer the child has to make sense developmentally.
Otherwise, we set them up for failure and create more frustration for us. For example, I won’t be inviting my 1yo to water flowers even though he is great at pouring in the bathtub and wants to copy what I do.
At this age, he will want to pour the whole bucket and it’s impossible to explain that much water will damage the plant. So we get frustrated and he gets a negative experience of what in the future can be absolutely delightful and meaningful practice. Some practical life activities have more realistic outcomes, such as placing a placemat on the table before eating a meal.
It is meaningful and will bring great satisfaction because the child can identify with the importance and experience positive results right away. In my experience, children at this age are too young to perform practical life activities except for a very few:
- wiping the table after eating
- using a napkin when necessary
- helping to pour water or other liquids when assisting in food preparation
- using a hairbrush to brush hair
- simple transferring
In saying that, all children are unique and develop at their own pace. The best way is to carefully observe and make notes of your child’s abilities, offer them every opportunity for success, and make it an enjoyable experience for everyone involved. At the end of the day, we are meant to “follow the child”.
Many parents worry about the amount of food consumed by toddlers. I follow one rule when preparing food for my children – their tummy is only the size of their fists. I always think of that when serving food to little ones. During the day they only have access to fresh fruit and vegetables, sugar-free spreads and crackers, and homemade energy balls. I generally offer my 1,5 yo food every 3 hours.
“At one year of age the child says his first intentional word his babbling has a purpose, and this intention is a proof of conscious intelligence. He becomes ever more aware that language refers to his surroundings, and his wish to master it consciously becomes also greater. Subconsciously and unaided, he strains himself to learn, and this effort makes his success all the more astonishing.” Maria Montessori “The Absorbent Mind”
Intentional conversations about their day, and their surroundings are crucial. Books can help to develop a habit of talking to the child and using a variety of words and expressions. We love books with textures in them for little fingers to play with. Eric Carle’s books have very attractive illustrations and are very interactive.
With only a few toys in the room, we like to choose ones that offer great sensory experiences, for example, this cloth busy book. This PopelineCo’s cloth busy book for babies and young toddlers has a variety of different textures, fabrics, and pastel colors that are just perfect for little hands to explore.
There are many intricate details that encourage little ones to spend some time experimenting and playing with different parts, looking at different colors and patterns. It’s also a wonderful toy to take on a trip or when you are out and about, it will keep kids busy in a waiting room.
With my oldest child, I have noticed that she was keen to use blocks to build towers from an early age. However, large blocks were too big for little fingers and smaller blocks were quite hard to keep from crashing. With my second child, I have decided to try magnetic blocks. These worked really well. As he was building, magnets helped to hold pieces together. These were also great for a basic color-matching activity.
Practically all young toddlers are fascinated with jars, bottles, and containers. They can spend a great deal of time in deep concentration placing lids on top. I tend to swap them on regular basis to keep my little guy interested.
We are very selective when it comes to purchasing toys. These rainbow sound blocks are ideal for little one’s entertainment, they are fun to build with and experiment with, especially when playing with sunlight that comes through the colored parts leaving beautiful color shadows.
From my personal experience, infants and 1.5-year-olds take some time to warm up to the idea of getting their little fingers dirty in the paint. However, sensory stimulation and free play with natural parts and paint are a great combination that promotes a child’s perception of the different colors around them.
This was another way to encourage my little guy to get his fingers to do some work – squeezing a sponge into a bowl. This activity is a great first step toward practical life experiences. Little fingers gain greater strength, the child learns to squeeze water into the bowl as opposed to getting it everywhere. I even didn’t have to show him to clean spills, he automatically started cleaning on his own since he saw me do it many times. I used colored water to make it easier for him to see the spills.
This activity below is also pretty much a child-driven discovery. It creates a perfect opportunity to extend their ability to concentrate! It is also wonderful for the development of their fine motor skills.
I shared with you my personal observations of children and the level of their capabilities at the age of 12 – 18 months. There are several principles we can follow to facilitate the development of the individual, and personality with strong physical and emotional health – make their environment safe, engaging, stimulating, simple, and beautiful.
Create an environment that promotes independence, allows space and time to discover and explore at their own pace, move freely, concentrate without interruptions, and keep their little fingers busy.
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