Toddlers: Order Muppets or Chaos Muppets?

By Lindsay Porter, Toddler Teacher

“Order is one of the needs of life which, when it is satisfied, produces a real happiness.”
-Dr. Maria Montessori

A few years ago, a new theory of personality made a brief splash on the Internet: The Muppet Theory. Basically, it’s the premise that each of us is primarily an Order Muppet (rule-following, organized, risk-averse) or a Chaos Muppet (spontaneous, emotional, a bit volatile). When you think of Order Muppets, Bert, Sam the Eagle, and Kermit come to mind; Chaos Muppets boast Animal, Ernie, and Cookie Monster in their company. While none of us humans is all one or the other, I think deep down, we all know which camp we belong in.

It would be easy to assume that toddlers are all Chaos Muppets but… believe it or not, toddlers love order. Really! Popular culture would have us believe that children ages 18 months to 3 years are natural hedonists, loving nothing more than to dump toys all over the floor and have a good wallow. However, Montessori teachers know better- many “typical” toddler behaviors are a response to the order (or lack thereof) in their environment.

When I first began working with toddlers this year as an assistant in Room 101, I was a bit taken aback to see very few materials set out on the shelves. My teaching background is in Montessori elementary, where the environment is brimming with materials. As the days passed, I realized the wisdom in this approach. Each activity is contained in a tray or basket, and each tray or basket has a specific spot on a shelf with plenty of empty space between them. It amazed me to see a child of 26 months independently choose an activity, take the tray to a table, complete the work, and return the tray to the exact same spot. It was clear to me that this cycle was only possible because of the curated minimalism of the Montessori toddler environment.

As the year progressed, Colleen gradually added more materials to fill out the shelves, careful to preserve space between each. The work cycle became second nature to these little people, and some even began tidying up stray items if they found them without any prompting from a teacher. Restoring order to their space apparently brought them satisfaction.

It remains to be seen which kind of “Muppet” each of our children will turn out to be. Communities thrive with a healthy balance of both types, who learn from and complement each other. In our school, exuberant, spunky children benefit from the limits and discipline our ordered environment provides, and rule-followers have plenty of opportunities to practice being flexible and open to spontaneity. The Montessori prepared environment can meet the needs of both Cookie Monsters and Kermits!