Function over Fashion: How to Take the Stress Out of Getting a Toddler Dressed
After 10 + years on the teacher side of life, I always wondered why parents would send their children in crazy outfits. Sometimes the children would come to class a tutu over their sweat pants, or shorts that were two sizes too big. Once I became a mom myself, it became more clear to me what was happening.
When I had my first child, I started off putting him in matching tops and bottoms and the cutest onesies. Everything was stored and organized in his drawers in matching sets. He had overalls and rompers with about a million snaps and buttons. He was adorable, and I loved it. Logan was my little baby doll that I would dress up, until it was time for toilet learning. This is when the “Montessori Toddler teacher” in me woke up the “crazy mommy” side of me. This kid was ready to start caring for himself. In fact, he had been ready to do it a lot longer than I had realized. My poor child had no real clue how to get his pants on or off of his body without my undivided attention.
This realization was my wake up call. It was time to stop being proud of how adorable he was, and let him become proud of himself for learning how to dress himself. My child started wearing the pants and shoes a few sizes too big so they would be looser and a little easier to get on and off by his hand more than my own. His shirts no longer had buttons that his tiny fingers were not ready to do on his own. And, we said bye-bye for now to anything with a zipper in the crotch.
One of the biggest rewards I find as a parent and as a Montessori Toddler teacher is gifting a child the tools necessary to “do it himself”. We start modeling self-care from the beginning with even the youngest children. The children are shown to push in their chairs, put work back on the shelves and make their own snack when they are hungry. They are also given the freedom to figure out dressing and undressing while using the toilet and getting diaper changes. The children start with pulling their own pants up and down with gentle guidance from the teachers, merely to help reduce frustration. A child is most successful when there are fewer opportunities for frustration. Buttons and zippers are items that often cause frustrations and accidents when toddlers are using the toilet. Just like work in the classrooms, clothing options should be provided that match a child’s individual skill set. Holding off on things like the buttons and zippers until the skill has been mastered can not only give your child a better success rate in the bathroom, but also help build their confidence because they are not plagued with having to change their clothes due to unnecessary accidents.
It is amazing to watch the pride fill a child’s face the first time they successfully do anything by themselves. Why wouldn’t we want to make it a little easier on them so they can feel the pride of their accomplishments? So, bring on the tutu’s and the backward pants that are a little too big, as long as a child did it themselves. They may not always be camera ready, but they are learning to be ready for life. Offer a limited and appropriate selection of items to wear and let the child choose, such as two outfits that can easily be mixed and matched. In our house, we use a cubby shelf and each child has 6 outfits for the week that they help pick out. They learned quickly that they can do whatever they want with the items in the cubbies. This helps my daughter, who loves choices, and saves me from her trying to pick from every pretty thing she has in her closet. It also helps my son who isn’t very good at making a choice pick something appealing to him. Dr. Montessori teaches us to provide choices and freedom within limits. This can successfully be applied to toddler/preschooler fashion.
Thankfully, Logan never looked back and has never missed having buttons on his pants, and he is closer to 5 years old than this mom’s heart can handle at times. I stopped getting in his way. I gave him time to try and problem solve which eventually lead to the little man who can now get up and dressed for school without assistance, except for the reminders here and there to stay on task. But that is a topic for another day.
A great resource is, How to Raise an Amazing Child the Montessori Way by Tim Seldin.
Every August brings the beginning of a new school year. It is a fresh start. Children return to the classrooms. Some of them are veterans of the class, having been in the room for one or two years already, and some of them are entering a new environment for the first time. Whether returning or new, each one of these children will be phased into the classroom.
Over my many years as a toddler teacher I have had a few parents ask why we follow this “phasing-in schedule.” It is true that slowly bringing the children into the new school year can cause a bit of a juggling act for parents. Work schedules may need to be altered for the week. Childcare may need to be arranged. In the end, all of that teeter tottering about is worth it. The children are the most important work, and their most important work is starting a new school year off successfully.
In every one of my first emails to our toddler parents, I give them their child’s phasing-in schedule. I also write that this schedule is the key to success. Children need a gentle introduction. They need time to adjust to new things, new places, and new people. It is through this process that they gain trust in everything and everyone around them. Their brains are allowed to assimilate what is new and what is old in a seemingly unrushed manner.
Have you ever noticed how your child is more tired at the beginning of the school year? I have. My son is fifteen years old and still took a nap every day he came home during the first week of school. School is a child’s work. It is serious business for them. When you allow a child to move at their pace you are listening to them and their needs. You are helping them to succeed. So, why do we phase our children in instead of putting them directly in the classrooms for full school days? My answer is, why not?
Toddler 1 Co-Lead Teacher
South Huntsville Campus
Every year since 2012 we ask parents to share their opinions of our program. We are grateful to all who answered. MSH is a unique program in that the parents “own” the school. As enrolled families you make up the Montessori Society of Huntsville, you elect board members who oversee the policies and finances of the school and who supervise the Head of School, who manages all operations, staff, etc. for the school. So what you say really matters!
This year is an special year for the school because we are coming to the end of our first 5 year cycle for accreditation by the Southern Association of Independent Schools. For the past two years we have been putting our practice under the microscope. We reached out to you at our Fall Parent Society meeting to find out if we were meeting our mission. Our board members combed through every policy to make sure it was relevant and in line with best practices. And since 2012, we have asked every parent to complete an exit survey to see why they were leaving us for other educational institutions.
All the information from these sources was analyzed and compiled into a single report called the SAIS Self-Study. The Self-Study also contains the board of director’s long-term improvement plan for the school and outlines our future strategic initiatives. On February 21-23rd, a team of independent school leaders led by Renee Kropff of The Bright School in Chattanooga will visit our campus and determine if we continue to qualify for the esteemed accreditation by SAIS. The team will review our self-study, observe our practices, and then give us commendations and recommendations. Our preliminary reports have all been well-received and we anticipate full accreditation.
If you would like to read the self-study, you can find it at the link below. As we enter our 51st year of operation, we are very proud of how far we have come and very excited about where the future of MSH is leading.
The Journey All Parents Should Take
We all want what is best for our children. We work hard to prepare them for a successful future by providing the best education possible. The environment we inhabit is dynamic, and learning to learn is the most valuable skill we can give our kids to ensure their future success.
At MSH, we believe that the very best method for teaching children is one that began 108 years ago. The Montessori curriculum followed here at MSH is comprehensive, individualized and delivered in a beautiful, organized way. The materials and methods are incredibly specific, and the training required by our teachers to implement these methods and materials is very detailed.
However, you don’t have to take our word for it. You can experience it for yourself and you should. When you hear about the pink tower, stamp game, or checkerboard you should know the myriad of skills that align to each material. When your 3 year old comes home with red and blue letters on his arm, you can understand why they are presented in a particular order. When your daughter mentions that she held the peace rose today, you will know how this item is used on a regular basis for resolving conflict and teaching self-advocacy.
On January 30 from 8am-12pm, we hope you will join us to experience your child’s school day first hand, by participating in the Montessori Journey. Our teachers will take you through highlights of the curriculum and answer your questions about our materials and our methods. Get answers to all your questions and learn so much more about the Montessori Method by experiencing it for yourself. It’s a journey every parent needs to take.
The Montessori birthday celebration, referred to as the “Celebration of Life,” is one of the most moving traditions we come together for in our classroom and school community. Parents are encouraged to attend this special event honoring their child, typically beginning when the child enters the Primary classroom. The child who is being honored is tasked with the responsibility of setting up the months of the year around a candle (which represents the sun). The child is encircled by her parents, teachers and friends as she begins her journey (walk) around the sun while holding a globe. Each orbit around the sun represents 365 days, 12 months, or one year of that child’s life. As we say the months of the year together, this ritual is a reminder that on a deeper level, the child is experiencing time and place, geography and even history. The children listen intently as Mom and Dad show photos of their child and discuss major events and milestones that have occurred since the child entered the world.
Unique to a Montessori classroom, the mixed ages allow children to reflect on what they were like at three years old and envision what they will be like when they turn six years old. Often, a child who was shy her first year, evolves into a confident second and third year student who proudly orbits the sun and even begins to interject her parents and tell her own story. It is a time for the child to reminisce on her life, to engage in public speaking, and to be celebrated by friends and united by love. The most beautiful aspect surrounding this occasion is the emphasis on being connected to the planet and share the miracle of human existence.
“We shall walk together on this path of life, for all things are part of the universe, and are connected with each other to form one whole unity.”