As described by Dr. Maria Montessori (August 31, 1870 – May 6, 1952); children experience phases in the first few crucial years of their lives relating to particular stimulus in their surroundings known as ‘Sensitive periods’. These periods are transitory occurrences that are replaced by new ones each time. Through careful observation, we are able to distinguish and boost these sensitive periods as a child grows. First, we must learn to comprehend these periods as important and necessary to help a child acquire certain abilities and traits that are crucial for their development and wellbeing. Sensitive periods are all interwoven and each act as a footing for the next.
From as early as birth to 4 years of age, children undergo a sensitive period to movement. Movement includes both maneuvering around a given area as well as manipulating materials within it. Movement also enables children to explore a setting with more ease, keeping them excited and eager learners as they physically explore their way around and about. Preparing and encouraging your child during this period will ensure steady development in hand-eye coordination and gross and fine motor skills. One way to do this is to provide your child with materials that are suitable and age appropriate.
Age appropriate materials are necessary, a factor that all caregivers and teachers, especially those in a Montessori setting, would have to put much thought and consideration into when preparing the environment. Using a standard motor developmental chart for children between the ages of 0 to 4 years enables us to distinguish what some of these materials are.
Age Appropriate materials for toddlers:
Toddlers up to the age of 2 ½ years are full of energy and curiosity. They learn through imitation and imagination. They are also very much attracted to colors, animals, shapes, sounds and objects that allow them to grasp.
Some of these toys include,
· Toys with knobs, handles, buttons
· Simple animal, people or vehicle puzzles with large puzzle pieces
· Toys with music, different sounds and songs
· Children’s picture books that are colorful and eye-catching
· Electronic materials that allow toddlers to mimic speech and actions
· Push/pull objects that encourage children to walk and move around
Don’t forget to encourage repetition of such materials, as repetition is an essential process in order for the child to refine his/her skills. Outdoor activities would also engage a child well physically during this period.
Age Appropriate materials for preschoolers:
Preschoolers between 2 ½ to 4 years of age start picking up interest in others around them. They take pride in their already mastered skills from their toddler years, and look forward to refining and expanding these skills. They are building self-esteem through the materials they use and may be put off easily if they get stuck somewhere along the line. Their curiosity continues to grow and they are now more confident in their sense of movement.
Some toys that would help include,
· Toys that educate them with a sense of big and small, tall and short, heavy and light.
· Concepts in math and science including counting, relating number to quantity and vice versa, simple measurements and balance
· Toys that allow or require more than one child to play
· Toys that encourage dramatic/imaginary play
· Storybooks that encourage the child to participate – these are books that have simple words, short phrases and bigger fonts
· Equipment that encourages gross motor skills like hula hoops, skipping ropes and balls
Remember, giving a child something that is either too simple or too difficult for him/her to tackle independently can lead to negative consequences. This includes disheartening, intimidation and indifference.
With these helpful hints on age appropriate materials, your task as a guiding and nurturing parent has just been made a little easier during your child’s sensitive period for movement and manipulation. Just like in a classroom where teachers prepare and engage their students according to their level of development, you can begin to do the same at home while spending quality time with your child/children.
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About the Author
Sarah Jane is certified & trained in Montessori Teaching, with years of expansive knowledge and experience with young children from diverse backgrounds and cultures. Sarah Jane expresses her love and interest for child development through her writing, constantly sharing and promoting awareness to parents and educational workers from all walks of life. She is also the co-founder of a multinational marketing firm Hot Fry Media (http://hotfrymedia.com).
© Sarah Jane 2011