Upon entering the toddler environment, the first thing that I noticed was the classroom atmosphere, which was calm and yet full of educational opportunities for a variety of students. The shelves and materials were organized in sequential order, the shelves were exposed so that materials were easily accessed. If the parents came into the classroom they would be able to see every material their child may be working with. The shelves were also not cluttered but materials were spread out so they could be seen and accessed easily by the toddler. The morning program started with a circle time where the children were asked by the teacher to greet each other, they sang the welcome song and then talked about the weather. I noticed that the children were encouraged to speak during this time and to sit on a cushion, every child participated in the song.
In the area of self-direction, I observed that some of the older children were quite independent when it came to choosing their own work. One child in particular who I believe is the oldest one in the class worked on all of her activities very carefully and quietly, and would sometimes “experiment” with the material while remaining careful and respectful of the material. Another child was painting and she decided to put her hands inside the cup, and once stirred the colored water with the paint brush to see what would to happen. This type of experimentation showed her natural curiosity. A few of the very young ones were quite “busy” and would often walk through the classroom talking or touching other children’s work, while the others are just observing their friends doing the activities.
I also noticed that some children would get upset easily when others touched their materials, while the others would allow their peers to work with them. The older children tended to want to help their younger peers with their work; some of them would go talk to or check on their younger friends to see if they were okay, or just simply ask them if they would like to work together. Most of the students were drawn to Practical Life materials, Sensorial materials, and Nature table at the time I observed. I didn’t see a lot of interaction with the Language and Number work during my observation.
During the course of the morning the children had group snack time where they were encouraged to eat their snack by themselves and to tidy up their plates and cups when they were finished. They then washed their hands and started to dress to go outside. A lot of focus was directed towards independence and some children were able to put their shoes on by themselves and then wanted to help younger children to put on coats and shoes. Outdoor recess was largely unstructured playtime; the teachers blew bubbles and threw balls for the children and encouraged them to play with each other. The teachers worked calmly and quietly within the classroom environment and they were allowing the children to choose their own activities. The head teacher acted mainly as a facilitator and when she was showing a material she was not interrupted by the other teachers or any children. She was doing individual presentations with hand gestures and non-verbally.
She used the 3 period lesson and also took the child to the shelf to choose the activity and then back to the shelf to show them were to place it upon finishing. She worked with a child while the assistant teachers were helping supervise the classroom or were “directing” some of the children to find activities. On one occasion, one of the children was working on an activity and a younger child took away some of his materials. The first child became very upset and started screaming so the assistant teacher approached him and calmly told him use his words to say “No, Thank you” to the other child. Second child returned the materials and the assistant teacher asked him if he would like to choose one of his favourite activities on one of the shelves from the Practical Life. This approach seemed to satisfy both of the students involved and was solved within a reasonable amount of time.
Regarding the physical environment, I observed that all the materials are scaled to the toddler children’s size and their abilities, allowing them to explore and be engaged with any activity of their choice, thus encouraging them to work freely and independently. This encouragement of independence created by an accessible environment helped the students with their independence and confident behaviour. I observed that the children were very enthusiastic about the materials and I felt they were appealing and attractive.
I very much enjoyed observing in the Montessori Toddler environment and seeing the certain behaviours that are unique to toddlers and other behaviours that are similar to the younger Casa students I have worked with in the past. Some of the things I enjoyed observing were the interactions between older and younger students and the developmental differences that they exhibited when they were moving around the classroom environment and making their work choices. It was very interesting to observe the teachers interactions with the children and the dynamic in the classroom. The room was not silent but seemed a social environment and children appeared very happy.