For as long as I’ve worked as a Montessori Parenting & Home Education Coach, I’ve noticed a theme when it comes to parents trying to figure out how to handle a toddler and an older sibling at the same time: How to keep younger siblings from messing with older siblings’ materials. I think they’re expecting me to give them the magic formula to keep their toddlers away from “big kid work,” but that’s not my go-to response.
I know it might seem impossible if you’ve never tried it before, but I’d like to see if you can try to include the younger siblings rather than making things off limits or trying to do things separately. It will require A LOT of supervision and redirecting from you at first, but I promise you that they are capable. I ran a toddler classroom of 15 kids ages 18 months to 3 years for 7 years — and they are capable of so much more than we give them credit for. ESPECIALLY if you are prepared to redirect and put in the work to teach them how to use the materials appropriately.
When I was a toddler teacher, the first month of school each year was simply spent on soothing separation anxiety and getting the kids to clean up after themselves. We didn’t give any important lessons other than bringing the work to the table, using it, and then putting it back where it belonged. After that month (much sooner for most children), we rarely had to remind children to put their work away or to use the materials appropriately.
The Montessori philosophy at its core is one that has a trust that the child is working toward her own development. We don’t throw away that trust just because we’re dealing with a toddler! Embrace it. Yes, you may have a difficult couple of months on your hands. But in the grand scheme of things, what’s a couple of months when it helps your toddler to be more independent and fulfill the needs she is trying to fulfill through the prepared environment?
I help parents navigate this kind of thing the Montessori way all the time through my one-on-one consultations and small group coaching. If you’d like to learn more about how to make this possible with your specific situation, please check out those opportunities to find the right fit for you.