Movement and the Toddler
It's estimated that most toddlers walk the equivalent of two and a half miles, roughly 14,000 steps (but also including over a hundred falls.) And, if that toddler is yours, you might be sure they take most of them between putting on their shoes and walking out the door. Toddlers are hardly the most efficient of movers, easily distracted while they're up and about, changing directions, taking time to squat or bend over or sit down every once in a while.
It may be frustrating, but it's necessary work. When Toddlers move, they learn to coordinate the many moving parts of their bodies. When they fall down, they learn, too. The more they are able to move their bodies, they better they learn to control them. This early, sometimes unpredictable movement is a necessary precursor to the controlled, integrated movement. Your child is developing their coordination by practicing the movements of all those parts of their body, and learning valuable lessons about persistence and resilience in the meantime.
Toddlers learn through trial and error, and the physical actions of their bodies offer lots of real-life opportunities to test out what they know about the world. Toddlers develop problem solving skills as they learn to navigate obstacles, make plans and putting them into action, and then repeating those tests time and again to see if the environment always responds in the same way.
Toddlers also communicate their needs through movement. You can learn what your child is interested in by where they turn their heads and what catches their eyes. You can follow your child's lead as they bring you to the bathroom or to a special toy. You can help to establish a close, loving relationship by engaging in your child's movements with them.
In Montessori classrooms, toddlers are encouraged to move about as their bodies need. You'll see different surfaces to climb up, over and through. You'll notice heavy things to carry about the room and smaller trays that require more care. You'll notice different textures to manage, different kinds of handles and teachers modeling all sorts of ways to move. Most importantly, you should not see belts or bouncers: restraints that interfere with a child's free movement or which automate the way the world responds. Instead, you'll see children learning about the world by being able to explore it freely and reliably. A seat that buckles a child in prevents them from moving at will- an obvious interference to their need to move. But a seat that operates without their instigation is equally confusing. Toddlers need to experience the influence of their bodies on the world around them... in response, you won't see motorized vehicles or seats in a Montessori toddler room.
At home, prepare spaces in which your child can also move freely and safely. Look for ways for them to access the areas of the house they'll need to take care of themselves. Low step stools that are wide enough to turn around on can help make a sink or toilet accessible to a toddler. Prepared child-friendly spaces with surfaces safe for climbing up and rolling off support your child's development gross motor skills. Toys to ride on and scoot their feet, heavy baskets to practice carrying, and child-friendly climbers to practice pulling up and over all allow your child to explore a variety of movements and build their coordination.
Most of all, allow for the time it will take for your child to get those 14000 steps in each day. Expect it to take more time when you ask your child to carry their bag from the car to the house. Expect it to take more time for your child to go to their drawer to retrieve their pajamas. Allow the time rather than doing it for them... your child is learning invaluable lessons by moving where and at the pace their body needs. You can't learn them on your child's behalf, and you can't rush them along. Sit back and enjoy the ride.