The ‘real’ needs of the Under Threes

By Annamaria Guild, Owner and Founder, The Under Threes

For Montessorians, the word ‘real’ should not be a new aspect of our teaching as using ‘real’ experiences and ‘real’ objects to aid children’s learning is one of the main principles of the authentic Montessori pedagogy. However, during my travels and visits to early years settings, I sometimes find that the real (no pun indented!) meaning of what our baby and toddler community and individual children need from us, is overlooked. Not for malicious reasons, but because everything else seems to be more important and it can be rather busy and stressful in a baby room! 

Primarily, young children’s emotional needs must be met through love, warm physical attention, tender touch, responsive attention, genuine fun, consistency, and continuity of care. (Of course, their physical needs have to be met too, but that I am sure we don’t need to expand on here.) According to Montessori, “During this early period, education must be understood as a help to the unfolding of the child’s inborn psychic powers” (Montessori, 2007:4). It is needless to say, that these inner powers can only be kept alive by the willing adult, who is eager to see the world through the child’s eyes. I meet so many such teachers and this always fills my heart with hope and gratitude! But I do not believe they all truly value their own personal input, their positive attitude, their unfailing curiosity and their invisible and untouchable, yet priceless interactions with the children. Everything starts in the baby room: movement, language, independence, empathy, social skills, personality and much more… Teachers are the children’s hopes and rocks while they are away from home and the ‘real’ needs of very young children are all connected to adults as a baby or young toddler cannot survive on their own. One of my favourite but rather old quotes from Winnicott is this: “There is no such thing as a baby …. If you set out to describe a baby, you will find you are describing a baby and someone. A baby cannot exist alone, but is essentially part of a relationship” (1964:88). Of course, Winnicott refers to the mother or prime carer, but teachers as key workers are also in a special relationship with children. Furthermore, Elfer states that “it is each practitioner’s individuality, personality, warmth and empathy and professionalism that is the most precious resource for children and families” (Elfer et al, 2012:42). This is why it is exhausting to look after very young children all day, every day!

There are many beautifully resourced and baby and toddler environments out there and it is wonderful to meet teachers who proudly show off their carefully prepared baby and toddler classrooms. To create such spaces requires immense work and effort! Of course, preparing the environment is one the most important tasks of a Montessori teacher, to enable children to explore and absorb information. But again, do teachers value their own input in children’s learning and experiences or do they do things out of habits in a robotic and unconscious way? I often wonder about the controversy that the children in our baby and toddler classrooms are in their unconscious absorbent mind phase, while the teachers need to be in an extremely conscious state to be able to tune in to the children’s rhythms, communication and feelings!

At the Montessori Musings webinar this Tuesday, 14 June at 19.00 (BST), we will talk about what really matters in a baby and toddler community and the immense importance of reciprocal communication. We will also discuss why it is essential to get back to the Montessori ‘basics’ (especially in the baby room) and allow ‘TIME’ to become our favourite pedagogical tool in order to meet the ‘real’ needs of babies and toddlers in our care. Register here.


Elfer, et al., (2012) Key Person in the Early Years: Building Relationships for Quality Provision in Early Years Settings and Primary Schools, Oxon: Routledge

Lillard, A.S and McHugh, V. (2019) Authentic Montessori: The Dottoressa’s View at the End of Her LifePart I: The Environment Journal of Montessori Research, Volume 5, Issue 1 [online] (10/6/22)

Montanaro, S. Q. (1991) Understanding the Human Being: The Importance of the First Three Years of Life Oxford: ABC-CLIO Ltd

Montessori, (2007) The Absorbent Mind Amsterdam: Montessori-Pierson Publishing Company

Montessori,  M.  (2012) The  1946  London  lectures. Amsterdam:  Montessori-Pierson Publishing Company

​Winnicott, D. (1964) Further thoughts on babies as persons. In The child, the family, and the outside world (pp. 85-92). Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books. (Original work published 1947)

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