How to Create a Montessori Home Environment
Whether you are homeschooling or wanting to create an environment at home that is more conducive to learning and less cluttered, you will find this article to be a great place to start. It is totally possible to have a beautiful, stylish home AND a place for your children to play and learn. All it takes is some creative planning and you don’t need to buy a bigger house or add a play room to do it! To get started, It is important to set up your home in a way that you are enabling your child to access activities on his/her own- not in their bedroom but in the same rooms that you as a family are most often in.
Young children naturally want to be in the same part of the house that you are in. They often need the physical closeness to their parent for bonding and secure attachment and especially if they do not have older siblings to model their behavior from, they want to model their behavior after you. You may have seen your young child watch your every move as you perform seemingly mundane tasks- sweeping the floor, chopping veggies, even turning lights on and off. "I want to try", or "Let me see" may be a frequent statement in your house. Think about your kitchen, living room, bedroom, bathroom, and any other room that is used the most often. Now consider what your child wants to do in each of those same areas of your home. You may find that what they want to do in these rooms is the same thing that you do in them- play with turning the lights on and off, use pots and pans too, and follow you around. Study and observe your child while at home and make a list of the things you notice them wanting to do in each room, and the amount of time they are inclined to spend in each room.
In a Montessori classroom, we talk a lot about the prepared environment. All that means is a space that is prepared with intention, so your child can learn by engaging in their own activities beside you.
Look around you own home and ask yourself, “What activities can my child access on their own and what do they need assistance in doing?’ ‘Does my child often drag toys out of their room to use in the living room with me or are the items they want to play with readily accessible in the rooms we most often spend time in?’ Finding a low drawer in the kitchen that can be dedicated to storing items your child can access themselves, placing low shelving in the living room with toys stored in bins, creating a little reading corner in the bedroom and providing a sturdy stool for washing up at the sink are all examples of preparing the environment for your child to access independently. Activities such as blocks, play dough, and toys can be organized on low shelves in their own storage containers, whether a bin or a tray, so your child can go to the shelf and access them without your assistance. Have a child size table and chair set up nearby that your child can take the activity to, and encourage your child to clean up the activity and put it away before they take out anything else. This cleaning up part is very important. Your child will get used to the routine, but if in the beginning your child does not want to clean up, you can tell them, “Can you clean up on your own or do you need me to help you?” This gives your child a choice, which makes them feel empowered, while at the same time not allowing them to skip the most important part: cleaning up. Children as young as 12 months have the ability to clean up after themselves. Provided child sized tools and materials such as sweepers or towels that fit their size and proportions. You can even color code the materials so that your child knows how to clean up (blue items go into the blue bin, or use colored dot stickers).
Once you have some low shelves set up with individual activities, take a look at how many toys your child has. We all love giving children gifts, however children often have a dizzying quantity of toys and games. Take a day to take stock and organize your child’s toys. Ask yourself what need each toys satisfies for your child. You can evaluate if each toy has merit by asking yourself, “Does this object fulfill one of those needs for my child?” If the answer is no, then it probably is not a great item to have around, and you can replace it with better activities. Perhaps there are some activities that provide educational benefit- a counting activity, for example. That would be an easy one to know to save and put out on the low shelves for your child to access. What about a teddy bear? A teddy bear does fulfill an emotional need for your child to squeeze and caress something soft, to have as an imaginary friend, and to have something to cuddle with at night. There is no educational benefit to a teddy bear, but there is emotional benefit. So we keep the stuffed animal, but maybe your child doesn't need 23 stuffed animals! How can you fulfill that need but not have an over-excessive number of objects? When you have sorted through and decided, put out only about 10 of these activities/toys at a time and store the rest away from view, like in bins on a high shelf in a closet. Let your child use what is available and about every 2 weeks, rotate out the ten items with the stored toys/activities from the closet. By rotating things out, your home stays tidy, your child is not overwhelmed by choices and can manage cleaning up, and your child is delighted every time the materials on their shelves are refreshed!
You can even have fun making your own activities. Children love pouring water from one container to another, sorting beans according to size or color, and using a stapler or roll of tape. All of these can provide hours of entertainment while helping your child improve crucial motor skills and coordination. Look around your house and think about what you can create out of household objects. Perhaps save your old toilet paper rolls and empty milk jugs for art projects and science experiments. Create an art station in a designated location in your house that can have a bin of repurposed materials. Get creative!
Lastly, don't forget to give your child a clear demonstration of how you may want a task or activity to be performed so that they know what the expectation is. Helping your child be a participant in the home is so important. Set reasonable limits with your child so that they can be successful in engaging with activities at home, while at the same time respecting and learning to clean up and put away their toys or household materials.
The prepared environment is the first step in helping your child grow with internal happiness and peace. It is through work in the home and school environments that are set up for the child that the child will literally use all parts of the environment to construct him/herself. Children love to do whatever their parent is doing because they learn from imitation. If you are often sweeping the floor when your children are around, get them their own mini broom and dustpan and sweeping will be engaging for them. Teach your child to load and unload the dishwasher with you. When you are cooking dinner, give your child one task to do every time you cook that can be built into the routine, “John, your job is to chop the vegetables”. I personally use these great cooking gadgets made specifically for children by Small Hands. My favorite is the vegetable chopper, because you can walk away from the child and know they will not be able to cut themselves, yet it chops very effectively. If you work with tools, teach your child how to use them! Screwing and unscrewing nuts and bolts, fixing a bike together, or using a hammer to drive in a nail (with an adult monitoring) are super fun for young children to do. Encourage your child to feel he or she is an important contributing member of the household and you will increase the love and bonding across your whole family.