If you were to tell years ago that toddlers are naturally orderly, I would have laughed at you.

I mean, have you seen how homes with children look like?!?

Well…I am writing now to tell you that it is apparently true. Maria Montessori was right. Toddlers do get into the sensitive period for order. Just like the photo below.

What?! How in the world is that photo orderly, right? That’s probably what you think.

To appreciate that, you should first know the process my son went through.

See, this was the first time I really witnessed his need for order developing at great speed. That’s his closet and he naturally likes to explore it.

One time, he got his box of cloth diapers and brought it to the bed. Once on the bed, he took them out, walked around with one diaper, then put it back. And then, slowly, he lifted the box, walked back to the closet and put it back.

That photo may look like a lot of mess, but see that box in diagonal position? That’s the work of my son – his very own effort of putting back the diaper box where it belongs.

Soon after, I kept noticing his growing sense of order. And I must say, this is so far my most favorite thing to witness. It is a magical thing to see, because really, to see the order, you first see a lot of mess. But the process – it’s simply amazing!

This was another night – he was exploring my craft area. And he got that labeling machine.

Once he was done observing it…

There. His very own work. It’s not perfect but he knew where to put it back! His muscles and coordination will get better someday, so he will eventually learn how to put it back in our adult standards.

Here’s another one with his diaper box.

He put the diapers on top on his own.

Let me show you one more…this was almost midnight. My husband was already sleeping, then baby P suddenly woke up. He was so awake that he stood up.

I followed him to see what he was up to.

First, he went to his Papa’s shoe cabinet and opened it…

Then he took some things out one by one…

After observing them, he would just leave them on the floor, or go around with them then drop them on the floor.

I was itching to put them back. It was almost midnight, after all. But I decided to hold it and just watch what he’ll do.

He went on and took out my husband’s black shoe. Then he walked around with it.

After that…look at what he did! He put the shoe back!!! This was at his own accord, with no direction/ suggestion from me. All I was doing was watching him and taking photos.

Not only that…he also slowly put the other things he took out back in the shelf! Each piece he took out, he put back in. And when he was done, he closed the door.

It was not positioned exactly how it was when he took it, but I didn’t bother to correct his work. It was his process, his growing sense of order fulfilled that really mattered that night.

You know what else I realized? That the work cycle Maria Montessori was talking about is so real — he had his own cycle, starting with what many adults see as mess. He took things out, observed them, walked around with them, put them back, took them out again, then put them back again, and when he was finally done, he closed the door. He had his own opening and ending. And he was able to do this because there was no interruption. I watched silently from a safe distance. Yes, I thought about how dirty shoes are, and I thought about our need to sleep. But I just couldn’t break his work, his focus, his concentration. He was so into it that I just stood by, fascinated with his process.

After that night, his sense of order just kept growing. To this day, he is putting things back in their place, and not once did I tell him to do that.

Now, here’s the part I wish I could quote Maria Montessori, for I’m sure I read it in one of her books, but that’s the thing about reading so much about her – I just couldn’t find the quote (ARRRRGH! I know, right? I shall edit this post when I finally find it). So let me just put her observation in my own words here. See, we think toddlers become orderly because we teach them. We think it’s our work of telling them what they should be doing that makes them clean up and put things back in their place. Well, the reality is…it has to do with their growing need for independence. They are naturally orderly not because we tell them to…they put things back in their place simply so that they know where to get it again when they need it. It’s that simple yet I thought it was a genius observation when Maria Montessori wrote about it (which of course, I wish I could share with you — when I find it, LOL).

And this is the part where I need to mention here WHY it’s important to keep the location of their things constant — because they will need it, and look for it, and when they can’t find it (most especially since they cannot really speak yet), it can result to crying and tantrums..or just a messy environment.

What do I mean by messy?

Look at this photo.

I’ve mentioned this is baby P’s closet, right? And because he keeps growing and his clothes are not exactly the same, his clothes are not constant. While I organize his shirts in one area, onesies in another, etc, they are not always the same clothes. What’s the effect? His diaper box is a constant, so he really knows where it belongs. So when he explores it, he puts it back in place. His clothes? When he explores them, he just leaves them on the floor after. There’s no ending for the clothes. He has a start – but he doesn’t finish. After thinking about it, I realized it’s not because he’s being messy, but really, it’s because he doesn’t know where to put which. So many times, we are so quick in labeling the child, not realizing it’s the environment we put him/her in that creates what we find unwanted behavior.

In a gist, here are my realizations:

1) Children really go through a sensitive period for order – but it can be easily missed, especially when all you choose to see is the mess.
2) Children go through this stage because it’s part of their growing need for independence. The constants in their daily life allow them to have a better understanding of the world they live in. We can provide help in this area by having a prepared environment – an environment where material objects are kept at the same place, and doing the same procedures for daily life activities.
3) If it seems that all your child does is create a mess, check your child’s environment. Is there an opportunity for your child to learn about order and predictability through his/her environment? Are objects placed randomly each time, or are they always in the same place? Do you throw and kick things (especially) in front of your child? Do you make big reactions when your child makes a mess? Maybe, before we label (or get mad at) our child, it’s best to do a self-check first and see what we can do on our end to assist our child’s developmental needs.
4) When we provide an environment where children’s needs are met (aka prepared environment), there are many things we don’t even need to actively teach. We never told baby P that he should put things back in their place. All we did was to actually put things back in their place whenever he’s done exploring, and to have only one location for many of his materials, and the rest is really all his effort and work.
5) I know it’s so easy to have a messy home when you have a child — I mean, between feedings and everything you have to do with and for your child, who has time to clean up?! But an orderly home is VERY important – for your sanity and your child’s. How would you feel if your clothes are not put back in their usual place when you open your closet? I end up bothering our household help and ask where my things are. This “bothering” could have have been prevented had the clothes been put back in their usual place. It’s the same way for our children. The bonus of an orderly home is that this is the kind of environment your child will get used to – so there’s not much need to keep reinforcing the importance of an orderly home to your child – s/he will just seek it during his/her sensitive period fir order and hopefully, even after.
6) This paragraph from THIS POST is so true — “When the child’s environment becomes disordered, chaos ensues. Due to underdeveloped verbal skills necessary for expressing frustration, the child strikes out at the disorder. Many temper tantrums can be avoided by having consistent, predictable schedules and ground rules.”

For a good read on the SENSITIVE PERIOD FOR ORDER, click HERE.







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1 Comment

  1. This is such an informative and enlightening post, Paula! I am mom of 2 (the youngest is a week younger than Pablo) but I feel that I still have more to learn, relearn and unlearn about parenting. When I visit your IG and blog, I always learn something new and valuable. Thanks a million! Keep on inspiring and empowering moms and dads.

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