At Gladwyne Montessori, the Toddler program’s practical life studies place emphasis on freedom and expectation: the freedom to prepare and clean up an area and the expectation to do it. To build autonomy, children are taught to not just show care for their physical eating area but to also contribute in preparing food.
For example, in setting up snacktime, toddlers place dishes, glasses, utensils, and placemats in the appropriate spots. And when the time comes, while it is always faster and oftentimes more convenient for the adult to clean up afterwards, toddlers are expected to do these tasks themselves. Children in the Toddler program can be found clearing their plates and unloading them onto the dish cart, all while exercising the attentiveness to carefully place one item at a time. With their inclusion in the cleanup process, a cause and effect relationship is kindled. Children begin to understand that since they dirtied their plates, utensils, and drinkware, they are responsible for what comes after: the cleanup. Holding students to this standard of responsibility also prepares them for kitchen safety when moving kitchenware from the table to the dishwasher. In Montessori Toddler classrooms, children use real dishes and glassware, instead of plastic ones, so that children learn vigilance in handling these items and then understand the positive and negative effects of their actions more easily. For example, if a student walks, not runs, to the dishwasher, she is showing precaution in the process; she has arrived safely, with her glass intact. But if a glass breaks, it makes students more aware of what led to its breaking. The natural consequence of “if you’re not careful, it could break” builds awareness and care.
Children not only aid in the setup and cleanup, they also work to prepare the very food they eat. Toddler children are peeling bananas and clementines, squeezing oranges to make orange juice, and chopping cucumbers with butter or cheese knives. By independently preparing snacks for the whole class, children begin to discover their capability. Exposing children to a variety of foods in the classroom may also help to heighten their own eating habits since inclusion in the process—chopping a cucumber, for example—could motivate their own food decisions or at least willingness to try an undesired food. Therefore, the Toddler program begins each day by discussing what each child had for breakfast, which then spirals into further conversations about nutrition and favorite foods. Talking about food and hearing from each other aids in the entire goal: exposure and involvement!
According to Living Montessori Now and depending on the toddler’s age, food preparation activities at home can be simplistic and repetitive (for example, lining muffin tins with paper liners or crushing an ingredient with a mortar and pestle); toddlers as young as 18 months can begin their independence in the kitchen—starting slowly, isolating one skill at a time. With time, tasks can become more layered for a multi-step approach that uses various materials and ingredients. In Toddler rooms at Gladwyne Montessori, children make foods like cookies, guacamole, apple cobbler, and biscuits while also learning features of an oven and safe handling. They crack eggs, pour flour and water, and stir, witnessing the creation come to life.
Visit The Montessori Notebook for recipes and ways to incorporate toddlers into your kitchen activities. The focus of these activities should be on the process, on acquiring skills and building confidence, not necessarily the finished meal. By promoting independence in the kitchen, toddlers will feel like a contributing member of the family—and ultimately, a valued individual.