Traditional school settings divide children based on their age or grade and typically keep them together for a full academic year, moving them up together at the beginning of a new school year. This presumes that most children will reach the "end" of the year at the same time, and will be ready for new challenges based on their chronological age. Because Montessori is centered on the individual child, however, many Montessori schools support children transitioning between classes when the child's development warrants it. This is especially true for Infants and Toddler classrooms. But how do you know which space is a better fit for your little one? Think about what we know about development from 0-3.
Montessori infant classrooms are often referred to as, "The Nido," or "Nest," acknowledging the warm, cozy environment that protects infants in their early development. These are spaces that tend to be smaller, quieter and softer in tone. You might notice softer lighting or gentle music. While generally quiet, you may hear a constant buzz in an infant classroom, as teachers monologue almost everything the child is looking at or doing throughout the day. You'll see infants on their backs or tummies, in soft spaces, with lots of mirrors to admire themselves or low bars to practice pulling themselves upright. You may notice manipulatives that make noise and are safe for mouthing, or mobiles hung lower to the ground. The most important goal here is to help the child to feel safe and loved as they come to learn about the world. You'll see a lower student: teacher ratio, with generally no more than three infants for each adult, to allow teachers to offer ample time holding infants, rocking them in their arms or admiring, with narration, the world around them. While you may see a small table for infants who can sit upright to enjoy soft foods served by their teacher, you are less likely to see high chairs or walkers, as these are classrooms in which children have free access to move and explore on their own schedules. Children will eat, sleep and have their diapers changed as they require individually, with the abundant comfort and support of a primary teacher.
Montessori toddler classrooms are generally more raucous, as toddlers have learned to move themselves around and are anxious to explore their new skills. Notice a variety of surfaces to climb, cross, walk on or bustle under. Look for manipulatives that require multiple steps, like placing rings on posts or pouring water from one jug to another. Notice that toddlers are generally more interested in each other than they were as infants, finding other children to talk to or engage as they move, move, move, move, move throughout their day. They may also be able to begin regulating hunger and other basic needs, and often begin following a classroom schedule for lunch or naps, although they are still likely to have snack whenever they are hungry. If the infant classroom is a nest to protect the new little person, the toddler classroom is the space from which to learn to fly. Toddlers want to be assured of their influence and of their independence. You may see a higher student:teacher ratio here, with as many as six toddlers to a single teacher, and more communication between the teachers during the day as teachers respond to children based on their interests or needs rather than following a few children in particular.
In consultation with your child's teacher, discuss what you see in your child's development that may indicate a better fit for one classroom or the other. Infants are generally less mobile, requiring a teacher to carry or move them when they are too sleepy to crawl. Children in a toddler classroom have confidently moved to their feet (despite frequent falls) and are able to carry things in their hands while they're walking. Toddlers can comfortably feed themselves and hold a cup. They are often interested in mimicking the actions of others, repeating what they see other children do or repeating songs and finger plays along with a teacher. They use language intentionally and have words that can be understood by their caretakers. They have a more observable understanding of cause and effect and will manage their own bodies accordingly. They are often able to help in their own diapering, pulling off the adhesive tabs or pulling down elastic waists.
Some children are best served in a toddler classroom at thirteen or fourteen months... others may be well over eighteen months before they move from one space to the other. While change is always hard, the most successful transitions will happen when all of a child's caregivers have noticed the need and are comfortable with the change. If your school supports mid-year moves, talk with your child's teachers about how their development is progressing, remembering that development between 0 and 3 is rapid; a child who is a month or two older than your child isn't a great comparison. Instead, look to the qualities of each environment to determine, in collaboration and partnership with your child's teachers, which space is best aligned to support and promote your child's development.