Sensitivity to order-- Providing structure without losing your sanity

As my fearsome foursome get closer to their second birthday, the atmosphere of the day is taking on new colors. We are mostly past the need to stick ALL THE THINGS in our mouths, and have developed the first beginnings of constructive focus. This transition into toddler-hood has happened so quickly! I am acutely aware that my role for the children is also evolving.


As babies and early toddlers my primary role was that of comforter. I provided food and milk, allowed space for sleep, and when gross motor exploration took a turn for the tumble, I was there with a snuggle and a kiss. This role is still of utmost importance, but it now requires another element. In order to provide comfort to these older toddlers, I must also prepare their environment to allow them progression through sensitivity to order. This manifests itself in two different ways.


Using Routine

The first environmental preparation is that of schedule and routine. Young children do not have the ability to tell time, and so they monitor their day by the sequence of events. If this sequence changes daily, with little rhyme or reason to the progression, it creates the sensation of floating helplessly and aimlessly. An adult's daily schedule would involve times, but remember, these sweet tots do not have this requirement. In fact, I have found a strict adherence to a clock to be more of a hindrance than a benefit. Our schedule is a series of events that we progress through organically as the needs of the group deem necessary.


Montessori inspired homeschool

  • Children arrive and are offered breakfast as our morning playlist runs in the background. As the children finish breakfast, they clean and play inside.

  • The playlist switches from upbeat Sesame Street songs and children's gospel to a soft meditative instrumental piece

  • Diaper change-toileting practice

  • Snack time

  • Nap

  • Diaper change-toileting practice

  • Lunch

  • Outdoor play while I exercise to music

  • Snack

  • Diaper change-toileting practice

  • Nap

  • Play if time, in the location needed for my family's evening schedule



While the strict Montessori environment would not make this use of music, I would not be without it. I have not found music to interfere with the learning process. In fact, I have found quite the opposite. The positive, and predictable arrival songs seem to help those children who are passing through stages of separation anxiety. It adds to the general joy that is breakfast and re-connection with friends. There is also a "settling in" phenomenon that can take some children fairly long to transition through. When the children come to their work, they frequently struggle to settle in to a productive focus. Instead, they will wander from job to job, pulling out a toy and carrying it around a bit while they take in the other surroundings. This is not a bad thing. They are still one, after all, and are developing the skills of initiation. How beautiful it is, however, when the playlist switches. Without prompting by me, each child finds themselves drawn in. Something catches their eye and that magical moment of focus begins.



Using the Environment

The second way the environment must be prepared to accommodate sensitivity to order is by having a very clear physical order. While the young baby may not mind having his diaper changed in a dozen different places, the toddler must have only one or two. The location is the prompt the child needs to understand the play of events, or the program, that is about to take place. It is time to lay down patiently and be cleaned. We are in the diapering station. It is time to eat, we are at the table. It is time to nap, we are in the bedroom. Very clearly defined spaces for toys is just as important as spaces for activities. It is quite unfair to tell a child who has only been alive 500 days that he must order his toys now when the room itself is not orderly. On this same vein, the quantity of toys should be small enough that the child can be successful in attempts to tidy up.


Sensitivity to order, at its core, is an attempt to understand the principles guiding the world around us. The child wants nothing more than to succeed -- to understand and to prove understanding through independent performance. As with all skills, this is one that takes time to perfect, and falling short of our aims is a source of great frustration. As easy it is to view this stage as the "terrible two's", it is more productive to remind yourself that your toddler is attempting to learn all social cues and patterns of behaviors at once.


If you are still on the search for reading material to help expand your parenting toolbox, there are many fantastic books written to help you with this stage. My two favorites are falling apart, with earmarks throughout, and handwritten reminders that this transition is tricky for both child and caregiver. How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen is one that will carry you through these early years of childhood with grace. The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel gives more than just strategies, it also takes a closer look at what is happening inside our brains at this most beautiful age.


I hope our journey inspires your own,

Buckets and Berries


Montessori inspired homeschool