Terrific Toddlers: Keeping it Real

Terrific Toddlers: Keeping it Real

When you’re under three years old, life moves around you on a big, confusing turntable. Most experiences are brand-new to you, and your mind is just beginning to catalog, organize and make sense of these experiences.

That is why toddlers often seem cranky, picky, or just a bit stunned! All this stuff coming at them is as confusing as heck, and they become overwhelmed and exhausted with the hard but necessary work of sorting it all out. They want to learn how to live in our world, and they are eager to find out everything they can.

You see, play is the child’s work. It’s important for sensory and motor development, language, and cognitive growth. This is why your toddler needs a wide variety of real objects and materials to explore.

First impressions are lasting

Think about the first time you saw a lion at the zoo. It looked, smelled, and sounded a whole lot different from the ones you saw in books and movies. It suddenly became real to you in a way it hadn’t been before.

This is why real–or realistic–objects and experiences are so important to toddlers. They will get their best impressions by touching, tasting, smelling, hearing, and seeing the real thing, whenever possible. This gives their brains a chance to understand what things really are. Plastic has its place, but no one should have as much plastic stuff as the average American toddler has. I could go on and on about this, but let me give you a few suggestions for bringing the real world to your child.

How to keep it real

Real tools and utensils. Give your child real tools and utensils to use. Get a good-quality child-sized rake or broom. Give them a plant to care for–one that can take a lot of water, then have them use a creamer-sized pitcher to water it. They can use a butter knife to slice a peeled banana or a cheese stick. You can downsize a mechanical carpet sweeper by removing a section from the handle to make it shorter. These are just a few ideas. Montessori websites such as http://www.carrotsareorange can give you loads of ideas for real activities.

Tree bark. Who knew it felt like this?

Nature experiences. You don’t need to be fancy with this. Your backyard or local park has plenty of things to touch, smell and see. Winter weather? Spend some time playing in the snow. Bring the outside in, too, by giving your toddler objects from nature, such as pine cones, seashells, and bird feathers.

Photographs instead of drawings or cartoons. Find some books for toddlers that use photographs instead of goofy, cartoonish drawings. You could also print out pictures of familiar people and put them in a small, sturdy photo album. Look for some small flashcards that use photographs or realistic drawings. You don’t have to completely re-vamp your child’s bookshelf. Just find a few things to balance out the images of dogs driving fire trucks or ducks in raincoats.

Real language. Give your toddler the gift of language by talking to them in clear speech. Provide them with names for objects, movement, and feelings. Give them short sentences that are simple commands, such as “Please pour the sand into the pail.” Use pronouns correctly, especially “you” and “I”. Please stop referring to yourself in the third person, as in “Mommy is going to the store.” When you grocery shop, tell your child what you’re buying and allow them to hold or touch things like oranges, potatoes or carrots. Let them smell the onions and the herbs, and tell them the names of each one.

This two-year old is using a half-size sponge

Real work and contribution to the family. There are lots of ways your toddler can help around the house to feel like a true member of the family. Cut a kitchen sponge in half, get it wet and wring it out, then let them clean the table or counter. Folding laundry, matching socks, dusting, tearing up lettuce for a salad, and scrubbing potatoes are all things your toddler can do. I’m sure you can think of more.

Why Plato thought this was important

Plato once talked about having the idea of a cup in one’s mind before one could fully understand what “cup” meant and how it applied to all kinds of cups. He called it the “essence of cup-ness”. Maria Montessori agreed. For your child to truly understand and incorporate the essence of the real world, they must have as many real objects and experiences as possible.


The true object of all human life is play. Earth is a task garden; heaven is a playground. — G.K. Chesterton

Grace is real–


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