Working with Toddlers Inspires Mindfulness

By Rachel McClain

As adults, it is easy to forget how to slow down and notice the details of the moment, whether it be things in our environment or within ourselves. We are often rushing around, multi-tasking, or anticipating the next thing to be done. For me, one of the most rewarding aspects of working with young children is learning to pay close attention to what is happening right here, right now. Working as an Assistant Teacher with the toddlers in room 102 has inspired me to practice mindfulness every day, both in and out of the classroom.

Ages 18 months to 3 years old are like no other time in an individual’s life. Critical and dynamic developmental changes are taking place at a rapid pace. It is remarkable to work in a classroom where one can witness what happens over months, weeks, and sometimes, in just a few days. As adults in this setting, we can appreciate these rapid changes in independence, but our daily work is to slow down. For the children, each step toward independence is profound, and the sense of wonder as they make new discoveries for themselves is vital for their development. While we can see how much they grow over time, in order to truly support them, we must learn how to slow down, be patient, keep calm, and observe closely.

When I observe a young child trying to carry an object, pour a glass of water, or put on their own shoes, I try to become aware of the smallest details. I notice how the child moves and the great concentration it takes. I notice how they handle the objects, how they seem to respond to the materials. It is beautiful to slow down and witness these aspects of the learning process. Observing in a room full of toddlers who are learning to master the most basic tasks helps me appreciate each moment more fully. I also find that the more carefully I observe, the more calmly focused I become.

Everything in the Montessori environment is important, including the adults. Moment to moment, we must be mindful of how we speak, the pace of our movements, the way we act, and even of what we feel. Toddler-age children are incredibly aware of the adults around them. They notice details of what we wear, the exact words we use, or changes in the daily routine. They also have uncanny, empathic abilities. They directly respond to and reflect back our emotional states. Being in this environment has helped me cultivate a more acute level of self-awareness and to become far more patent. Throughout the day, I stop to notice my breath. I take inventory of my state of mind. I practice calming myself so that I can be at my best for the children. In these ways and more, I have found that being present and observing toddlers has helped me become more present with myself. Every day with this age group is challenging, meaningful, and deeply rewarding. I am grateful for all the things that the toddlers are teaching me.