Sometimes it feels like no matter how much running around and playing our child does, they just never seem to run out of energy. We envy them, how they seem to have so much energy at bedtime, even after a long day of causing chaos, when we are walloped after running after them.
It can feel stressful to parents, as we wonder why they don’t seem to be tired at the end of the day, why they seem to almost get more hyper in fact? We wonder is it something we should be worried about, if they’re in fact hyperactive because of some other reason.
Well there’s a Montessori theory called ‘Maximum Effort’ and it could explain why your toddler may seem as if they’re not using all their energy.
‘The child does not follow the law of the least effort, but a law directly contrary.’ Maria Montessori, founder of the Montessori school of thought wrote in her book “The Secret of Childhood”. ‘He uses an immense amount of energy over an unsubstantial end, and he spends, not only driving energy, but intensive energy in the exact execution of every detail.’
Or more simply explained, completing a task for young children is not actually about completing the task. It’s about doing the task. For example, when you unpack the shopping from the car, it’s to put it away and get on with other obligations. But as they carry the items one by one, it’s about the act of taking the bag from the boot, carrying in a bag of fruit or the sliced pan and lifting it onto the table and placing it there.
Maximum effort is about allowing them to exert themselves by doing tasks that require great effort. In a 1946 lecture in London, Maria Montessori is quoted saying ‘They need big, heavy, things…The greater the effort, the greater the child's pleasure and the worse any interruption…Children make a great effort to conquer the environment. They do as much as they can as soon as they can. They apply a maximum effort.’
Which is why, although we may sigh when they try to ‘help’ (and end up slowing everything down) it’s actually good to let them explore their limits and effort levels. Maximum Effort is letting them take on heavy things tasks, letting them learn and be active while putting 100% of their concentration and effort into this task. It’s not about how quickly they do it, it’s about learning to do the task and repeating it without any particular goal in mind until they’re tired.
‘Practical Life Activities’ as they’re termed in Montessori education – or just chores for most of us – are really interesting to young children. It’s family work, team work and a part of the daily routine. They want to be involved and allowing them to be part of it – without rushing them or trying to do it for them – gives them their first steps towards independence. It also gives them motor skills, builds strength and increases dexterity.
So what kinds of tasks are appropriate for this age group and how can we ensure they’re practising Maximum Effort? Here’s a few suggestions below:
Putting laundry from the washing machine into the dryer
Help bring in and empty shopping bags
Empty cutlery from the dishwasher
Put pots and pans away after drying
Pull along cart for toys, books – or even siblings!
Make their bed
Stir the batter
Go for long walks without a stroller
Carry a large water bottle on walks
Put away ironed clothes
Move appropriate-sized furniture
Carry water jug to the table
It can be tempting to see our children as fragile, in need of care and unable to do things for themselves, especially at such an in-between and clumsy stage as toddler-hood. We’re stressed with life and family and all the jobs on our to-do list that day, so we just want them to hurry up sometimes. So we do the task ourselves, or rush them while they do it or give them pretend jobs that is just keeping them out of our way. We’ve all done it, there’s no need to feel guilty or alone.
But we forget that we’re taking away their chances to learn from these tasks. Toddler life is going to be messy. They may spill the water they’re carrying or drop some of the shopping – and that’s all good too. Making mistake is a major part of learning and by allowing them just a little more responsibility, movement and effort, it could make a major difference to their development.