Montessori at Home: a Prepared Environment

Montessori for Parents: Prepared Environment at Home
“It is surprising to notice that even from the earliest age, a person finds the greatest satisfaction in feeling independent." -Maria Montessori

So you've realized you are going to be one of the cool parents, and will set up an amazing home environment for your kid. You start envisioning an ideal space, a child-friendly oasis like the ones seen on Pinterest or Instagram. But hang on a moment. It needs to be more than a pretty picture. The space should be functional and useful as well. It needs to be manageable and stay attractive every day. And if that wasn’t challenging enough, it probably needs to be in a room shared by the entire family. The space needs to work for everyone; it cannot be monopolized by children’s plushies, books and LEGO.

If you are reading this, you probably already know a little about the Montessori philosophy for children’s education. You have probably seen pictures of beautiful, orderly and spacious Montessori classrooms. Perhaps you are even familiar with the concept of a “prepared environment”, and how powerful it can be facilitating child's independence. That’s fantastic!

And if you are, you may rightly say, “Hold on a sec”. Maria Montessori developed her philosophy for a classroom. How do we implement it at home? Our home environments are very different from schools. We need our living room and our kitchen and our bathroom for all the family members, not just the kids. Not to mention, spending time with kids all day long is not an option. We've got jobs! Even when at home, we cannot dedicate all our time to our little bundles of joy. There's plenty of “adulting” responsibilities to fill up out time.

A Parent's Dilemma

Fear not, because that’s precisely why we are here. We'll take ideas of the ingenious Maria Montessori which are just as relevant for a home as they are for a classroom, and implement them in our modern living quarters. I’ll be here to help you every step of the way. By the end of it, you will have a ‘home edition’ of a Montessori Prepared Environment. Naturally, it’s going to be somewhat different than a Montessori classroom. But if done right, it will take your parenting experience to a whole other level, and will do wonders for your child’s development.

The Space

OK, let’s dive in. The first thing to know is that to uncover the brilliance of Montessori at home, you’ll need some work in two areas: your home space, and your mindset. I have condensed the ideas and guidelines of the philosophy into a framework of 4 simple principles which you can use to turn any room in your home into a child-friendly place.

Simple

Begin by decluttering the space. Remove excessive visual “noise”. It's common for parents to plaster the wall with months worth of art projects their child did in preschool. Only select few of those are normally worth keeping. Do away with piles of toys (or clothes?), if you have any. Bid farewell to the traditional toy box as well. Think of it this way: would you want all your kitchenware, or all your tools stored in one large box? That would make things a bit hard to find, especially the ones at the bottom.

Instead, organize toys and other materials on easy-to-reach shelves. Consider a dedicated basket or tray for each "activity". Less clutter means more accessible play options for the kid. For the younger age groups (3-6 and 6-12), limit the available choices to five or six activities at a time. Same applies to books - place a handful of select books into a basket, or better yet on a book display, so that the covers are clearly visible.

Montessori playshelf
A Montessori playshelf shouldn't be particularly "busy".
A few items at a time is enough.

Limiting the options to just a few at a time encourages a young child to spend more time and focus on the activities available. While not immediately obvious, this has a strong positive effect on their development. Whether it's arts and crafts, puzzles, books or other materials - they all have better impact when a little brain has more time to focus. An abundance of toys tends to distract little kids.

Remember, simplicity doesn't mean dullness. Infuse vibrancy through touches of nature (begin with plants), artwork, and colors. 'The Montessori Toddler' recommends incorporating ethnic elements into the decor and design. This introduces your children to diverse cultures from a young age - an excellent suggestion.

Child-sized

Invest in furniture tailored to your little human. Ensure they can navigate their space effortlessly. Montessori dubbed her school "The House of Children" for a reason – everything catered to the pint-sized occupants. From shelves and tables to brooms and water pitchers, let your child's room be uniquely theirs.

Position shelves for books and toys within reach. Create a cozy reading nook with an armchair, pillows, or even a mini indoor tent. Chairs and tables should match your child's size and be easily movable. A bed should allow the sleepy little human to climb in and out of it on their own.

Enabling Independence

The ultimate goal is to nurture your little one's ability to do things on their own. Start with age-appropriate gear and arrange activities to encourage solo endeavors. Want you active toddler to stay hydrated? Set up a tray with a small pitcher of water and a glass. Place the tray on a low shelf for easy access. Show them how to pour. For the inevitable spills, keep a cloth within easy reach. Soon enough, they will be able to pour, clean up and ask for more water all on their own!

Toddler on Learning Tower in Kitchen
2-and-a-half year old Alice standing on a Learning Tower,
washing and eating a plum.

Consider if your child can tidy up post-playtime. This skill will take time to develop, and the environment has to encourage it. The more independence they gain, the more confident they become.

Also, consider investing in a learning tower or a step-up stool - a must-have in a Montessori home!

Rotation

We talked about limiting the number of available materials (be it puzzles, threading activities, or building blocks) to only a handful at a time. This allows children to be more confident in their choice and to focus on the developmental need to which their natural instinct draws them. However, this doesn’t mean that you must limit a child to the same five toys at all times. Another principle that becomes key here is rotation. This applies to toys and books but also to clothes if we are talking about the wardrobe.

When introducing rotation, the key question is: where to store all the toys and other materials not currently in use? Managing storage becomes crucial here. Utilize overhead cabinets or baby-proof cupboards for items not in use. Invest in handy containers. Keep it organized yet accessible, steering clear of the little ones' reach.

How often to switch things up? It varies. For the younger ones, start with a weekly rotation. Observe what captures their interest and keep those activities at the forefront. If your toddler is a big fan of a jigsaw puzzle, keep it for longer. That pretty coinbox you thought they’d like is just gathering dust? Swap it out! The time for it may come a few months down the road.

If you follow just these four principles, you are well on your way to setting up an excellent, empowering environment for your kids.

Next, check out how you can set up an instagram-worthy playroom for your little tyke.

And if you haven't already, take a moment to learn more about the proper mindset to become a true Montessori parent.

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