How do toddlers begin to speak? It seems like a magical transformation, from perhaps a few sounds that resemble words to full sentences in a short amount of time.
Learning new vocabulary is a big part of a young child’s work in the Montessori Toddler classroom, from about 18 months to 2 years.
In that classroom, you’ll often find baskets or containers full of real objects, sorted according to theme. For example, a basket full of balls might contain a softball, baseball, basketball, and soccer ball.
Why is it necessary to use real objects, rather than a representation like a photo? Here’s Jamie Bauer, Montessori Teacher:
“We use objects in language to help develop concrete meanings and to allow the brain to develop.
We start with real objects – fruits, veggies, real tools, or kitchen utensils. These real objects tell a child everything about an apple, for example. Exactly what it feels like, looks like, smells like, what happens if you drop it or scratch it.
Eventually we might slice open the apple to see the inside, and of course take a bite to get a taste! We also speak about features: Is it hard or soft? Shiny or dull? What color is it? There’s so much information to be learned from this one apple.
We move to replicas of objects because a child has had feedback on the real object so their brain doesn’t need all of the concrete. It’s able to say, this looks like the real apple – even though it doesn’t have all the same properties, I know it represents an apple.
Eventually the goal is that the child has had enough experiences with real life objects that they can see a picture or hear the word and the brain makes an immediate connection. They hear “apple” and can recall the smell, the texture, etc.
Ideally, the way we interact with children would be us giving them constant opportunities to engage with objects!”
Consider how your toddler learns at home! Try using real life representations to learn a new word before moving on to images in books or photos. Your young child will have so many more memories tied to an object after experiencing the world in a very concrete and tangible way!
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