Maria Montessori stresses the importance of a rich environment that provides the necessary sensorial experiences to a child.
What is a rich experience? Something that provides sensory stimuli, introduces something new or helps practice and helps form neuronal connections with older knowledge.
Why rich experiences?
Everything children see, hear, feel, touch, or even smell impacts their brain and thus influences the way they view and interact with their world—including their family, neighbors, strangers, friends, classmates, and even themselves.Daniel J. Siegel
Piaget’s theory of cognitive development is one of my many favourites. While he observed that infants actually seek environmental stimulation that promotes their intellectual development, he thought that their initial representations of objects, space, time, causality, and self are constructed only gradually during the first 2 years. He concluded that the world of young infants is an egocentric fusion of the internal and external worlds and that the development of an accurate representation of physical reality depends on the gradual coordination of schemes of looking, listening, and touching. Basically, as many rich sensorial experiences as possible.
I’ve prepared a simple list of experiences that busy parents, overwhelmed parents, and lazy parents like myself can give the child. Take what is possible and leave the rest. 🙂
1. Do with me
Helping with laundry, cooking, chopping, smelling spices, feeling vegetables, cleaning up messes, picking up toys, gardening, etc not just give rich, hands-on-learning to the child but also teach dignity of work.
As simple as that. And when you walk, let her take the lead. Let her pause and marvel at leaves, flowers, twigs, pebbles, sand, the colours of the sky and ask you questions. These are the basis of lessons in biology, culture, social skills, math, astronomy, etc.
Just talk. Ask her about her day or tell her about yours. Point out and show phenomena and objects around you.
4. Heavy stuff
Don’t shy away from using big words or facts. Treat her like an intelligent, sweet person and she will be that. Tell her you’re exhausted. Talk to her about the bladder and kidneys while pee training. Give her something real to imagine about. Don’t fret about introducing heavy stuff.
5. Go places
Although the quarterly European vacations sound lovely, trips to the market to buy vegetables, the nearest park to observe birds and trees, the zoo to see animals and wonder about forests, the beach to see the sea, the aquarium or the temple theppakolam to see fishes, downstairs to play with kids, relatives’ to see new settings, are equally enlightening.
Tell her stories and read a lot of books together. It is not always possible to have all the wonderful books one sees, something I feel bad about most often. Take a family album and recount stories of the familiar faces. Pick a simple picture book and read it in different voices. Show her the world that exists in words and books.
Give her a play environment with plenty of purposeful and skill based work. While it is amazing if one can afford all the possible learning resources and wooden toys in the world, focus on a clean and neat space that can teach your toddler independence.
8. Stay still
And just sometimes, stay still with your child. You don’t always have to be busy running from one chore to a class to an activity. Sit still beside her in comforting silence and do absolutely nothing. Get bored together.
Providing these experiences are transformational- not only for the child, but also for the parent. They remind us of the simple joys and teach us about the child as well as ourselves.