The Montessori Prepared Environment: What it is and How to Make One at Home

The Montessori Prepared Environment:
What it is and How to Make One at Home

Setting up Montessori areas is one of the quickest ways to reduce tantrums – it creates a ‘yes zone’ that needs minimal adult help for the child to access it. It can be as simple as setting up a few cube shelves from Bunnings with some toys in your living room, to setting up a ‘toileting’ area, a ‘morning tea self serve area’ or whatever feels right in your home. You’ll love the reduced mess, the less chaos and more focussed play time it brings!  

In the Montessori ‘Prepared Environment’ everything is centred around the child and not the adult. It is a calm, safe place in which the child is free to explore and choose work of their own interest at their own pace. You don’t need to have a full classroom environment to create one at home, just a section of the main living area is plenty if that works for you. This is something that I provide physical help with in my one on one consultations with families because it can feel a little daunting or overwhelming sometimes especially if a big declutter is needed. But take a deep breath and calm the farm Mama, it doesn’t have to be epic. When creating a ‘prepared environment’  just incorporate these main six criteria:

Freedom:

Allow the child the freedom of movement, exploration, social interaction and choice (always within limits – we cover this in the chapter ‘Freedom Within Limits’)!). Make sure the area is big enough to easily move around in and that you can see the children at all times. Also make sure that the area is safe (power points covered, no ‘pull down’ hazards etc.)

Structure and Order:

Between one and three years old, structure is very important to the child as they begin to make sense of the world around them. Something as simple as moving their room around can throw them into a spin so be sure not to change things up without involving the child in the process. Never change more than a few toys/activities at once, never more than 50%. It’s very helpful to keep toys on shelves instead of bins or toy buckets. This way the child learns where they all go and can start to put them back before moving on to the next activity. Having toy boxes means everything tends to get dumped out to find something (or that toys get forgotten and never played with down the bottom) meaning too that there is often a huge mess to pack up which is overwhelming for everyone.

Beauty:

Keep the environment beautiful, uncluttered, well maintained and with an atmosphere of peace and tranquillity. The environment needs to be inviting for a child to want to use it! Things like neutral coloured walls, simple furnishings, living plants and reality based artwork hung at the child’s eye level make a huge difference – unlike the cluttered brightly coloured walls of most schools and play centres which are very overwhelming and can overstimulate and distract a lot of children. The use of beautiful natural materials and not synthetic or plastic materials is very important as this beauty entices the child to work with them. Children naturally prefer to work with beautiful wood materials over plastic fake ones. Think, the more simple the better!

Nature and Reality:

Keep everything real and not ‘representative’. Bake real cakes with real utensils rather than a plastic toy set. Make all objects, furniture and materials child sized to make the child’s work easier which will minimise their frustration which means less tantrums. Spend as much time outside in nature as possible. By providing access to nature- trees, rocks, mud, grass, insects, etc. allows the children to physically experience these things, not just see them in books which is critical for the growing mind.

Social Environment:

Give the child social interaction through the use of multi age classes or time to socialise in parks, playgroups, family situations, etc. Children develop compassion, empathy, patience and conflict resolution through socialising and playing in groups with others, which prepares them for more complex social situations as they grow.  By allowing children access to multi-age situations, you will notice the little ones want to copy the older ones, and the older ones want to teach the younger ones (which also cements their knowledge) – it’s a win all round!

Intellectual Environment:

All materials and activities have an in-built ‘control of error’ which allows the children to learn to their full potential with minimal adult input – the child can see their mistake themselves and correct it themselves – think of stacking rings. A child can clearly see if they are put on in the correct order or not – no adult intervention is required. Make all materials range from simple and concrete and then to abstract and complex, this means start off easy and make it harder. An example of this is asking a child to name a real animal such as a dog, then showing them a photo of a dog, then a drawing of a dog, to maybe an abstract painting or representation of a dog, this allows them to build upon their first initial concrete understanding of ‘dog’ to more diverse abstract understandings.

Montessori in the home is going to look different to Montessori in the classroom, and that is ok. The idea is not to turn your house and home life into a school, rather to use elements of the Montessori philosophy to make home life more streamlined for you and more accessible for the child.

Montessori home life means making everything in the house as child friendly as possible in a practical sense this could look like:

  • Having the child pick out their clothes the night before for what they will wear the next day (even if it means choosing which school dress out of the 5 identical school uniform dresses – choice gives the illusion of control!) and lay them out before bedtime. This also reduces rushing in the morning and promotes independence.
  • Teaching the child (or assisting the child) to do as many self care elements as possible (teeth brushing, hand washing, hair brushing, dressing, shoes, etc.).
  • Getting the child involved in food preparation with you – they are also more likely to eat something they have helped prepare – true story!!
  • Having the child set the family table for meals.
  • Helping with ‘chores’ such as window washing, table wiping, sweeping, mopping, vacuuming, dish washing, loading the dishwasher. Small toddlers are able to assist with most of these things – even if helping means splashing in the sink of bubbles beside you while standing on a learning tower! Children want to contribute, they want to be a valued member of the family and by having children included in household and family chores aka tasks, from day one, they are less likely to be task avoidant later on as you are setting a precedent.
  • Teaching the child to clean up their own messes and spills (always help if needed). This is a vital life skill!
  • Having toileting, handwashing and their bedroom area freely and easily accessible with safe steps etc.
  • Role modelling keeping their play area (your prepared environment!) clean and tidy. Some rules that help with this are only using one thing at a time, packing it away to the shelf before you can choose something else etc. I have the rule in our house that if something is in a ‘common area’ then anyone can play with it if it is on the shelf. Anything that is ‘special’ to each of the girls must stay in their room when not in use (we have the rule that everyone must get permission to enter someone else’s bedroom). If an activity or toy must be left out because they are halfway through doing it (and have to stop for some reason) then they must put their name tag on it. This shows that it is actively being used, no one else can use it and that it hasn’t just been left out and not packed away.

You will likely need to do a ‘big cull’ of things that do not align with your new learnings. Ditch anything that is broken or missing bits. Donate clothes that no longer fit or that your child doesn’t wear. Donate toys that do not align with you, that scare your child or that no longer get used. Do not keep things simply out of obligation because Aunt Mary gave it to you – much rather gift it or donate it to someone else who will truly love it (I’ll bet that Aunt Mary won’t even notice!). Having a big clear out and declutter will make it much more simple to establish a more organised play area – you will know exactly what you are dealing with and everything that you have left will be items that are truly loved, valued and played with. Everyone can breathe a big sigh of relief – it feels empowering and cleansing to do this – trust me! If you need someone to help with this, reach out and book a one on one consult – I LOVE this stuff! Decluttering, streamlining and Montessoring is my jam!

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