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Little giants at work: the Maximum Effort milestone (according to Montessori)

Petits géants à l'œuvre: l'étape de l'Effort Maximal selon Montessori

Last week, my youngest reached a new, very subtle milestone.

He picked up a 2 liter bottle of water from the floor and carried it to the living room, grunting and smiling proudly with each step, a sign of his success.

In Montessori pedagogy, this strange little obsession that toddlers and young children have with carrying heavy objects is defined as Maximum Effort .

It is when the child engages in "heavy work", that his efforts intensify and he seems determined and focused.

Maximum effort is a moment of pure determination and we adults must be careful not to interrupt it (unless there is imminent risk or danger, of course).

If you've noticed that your child is interested in the act of lifting, pushing, or carrying heavy objects, now is a great time to explore maximum effort work.

Spring and summer are ideal times for this, as there are plenty of opportunities to do heavy work outside, such as watering plants with a full watering can, carrying buckets of sand, and raking the ground.

"The child does not follow the law of least effort, but a law directly contrary. He uses an immense quantity of energy for an unimportant end, and he expends not only motor energy, but energy intensive in the exact execution of every detail." - Dr. Montessori, The Secret of Childhood

Only when the child asks for help, verbally or nonverbally (i.e., when he or she shows signs of frustration), do we offer help.

When your child shows interest in maximum effort activities, here are some jobs you can offer them.

Carrying heavy objects:

  • When going grocery shopping, bring a reusable bag, backpack or basket that the child can carry. Give him non-fragile foods and unbreakable packaging to carry or bring inside the house.
  • Once all the groceries are inside, invite him to help you put them away! “Can you carry this bag of flour to the pantry?”, “Can you put all the cans away?”, or, if the child cannot reach the cupboard, “Can you put all the cans here?”
  • Provide a sturdy bag or basket in the playroom so your child can put their toys.
  • Bring buckets and a shovel to the sandbox so he can fill it, carry it, and empty it.
  • Provide child-sized furniture in your home that they can carry on their own, such as a chair or stool.
  • Water the plants - let your child carry the watering can.
  • Get your child involved to help do the laundry, i.e. load and unload the machine.

We talk a lot about the importance of using tools and equipment appropriate for a child's size , but every once in a while it is fun and interesting for the child to use large tools , like raking leaves with an adult-sized rake, or use an adult-sized watering can. This is difficult work that requires a lot of concentration.

Pushing heavy objects:

  • A wheelbarrow with items inside to push around the yard. You can use stones, sticks, sand, dirt, anything really! You can also use a child-sized cart or carriage. Wheelbarrows are ideal because the child must work to keep them balanced.
  • Depending on the layout of your home, you may allow your child to push a laundry basket to the laundry room.
  • Build an obstacle course in the house or outside, complete with a balance beam and something to climb.
  • Climb the slide at the play park.
  • Take a long walk and climb the hills. Dr. Montessori observed that a child aged one and a half to two years can walk several miles and climb such difficult objects as ramps and stairs (The Secret of Childhood).
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