In Montessori philosophy we see the “Prepared Environment” as a key component to the healthy development of the child. Rooms whether at home or in a school setting are designed and furnished with much planning and thought towards the particular age in which it will be catering to.
As we prepare this space we ask:
Does it provide freedom of movement?
Can the child move about the room free from hindrances such as cots/cribs, bouncy chairs, high chairs, walkers, etc? Is the furniture the appropriate size for the child? He should be able to reach his toys from low shelves, choose clothes from drawers/closet, have meals at a table and chair sized for him, get dishes and cups from a cupboard, etc. He will also need a stool in the kitchen to help with food prep, and one at bathroom sink for hand washing. These are just a few thoughts among the many we consider so the child can move and be independent in his environment.
Does it appeal to the senses without being overstimulating?
A Montessori environment is rich with natural elements e.g: wood, jute, bamboo, wool, cotton or other natural fibres, glass, pottery/ceramics. Dr. Maria Montessori believed that children, especially in the early years where senses are most keen, should be surrounded by the beauty of natural things. In our current plastic world it is very appealing for the hands to touch and see the various grains of wood, to hold and feel the smoothness of ceramic, to experience the translucency of glass and the coolness of a tin box. You will find that when chosen with care these items will also contain no toxicities, ideal for child interaction.
It is also important to consider the colours in a room. While it is true that children are drawn to vibrant colours, the senses can only take so much at one time before coming overloaded. It is best to stick to a more neutral or earth tone scheme for the walls and furniture of your room. You will notice that pops of colour will greatly be introduced to the room once you add toys on the shelves, pictures on the walls, pillows or rugs on the floor, etc. This will provide a soothing environment with eye-catching pieces that will draw your child’s attention. A rainbow ring stacker on a clean, white or timber shelf will call the child over for a play.
Are the items catering for the current development of the child?
Ask yourself what your child is doing and what is he working towards. Is he a newborn? Then he will need mobiles that he can see and a low-lying mirror to stimulate him and explore his self awareness. If he is a crawler he will need toys he can push and roll. He will also need a sturdy little table or ottoman to practice pulling up and cruising on before walking. Make sure toys are simple, moving on to more complex as he develops: they must provide a new challenge without frustration. Careful thought which requires observation of the child will ensure items are suitable for his stage of development.
Is the environment safe?
This is the most important factor. A Montessori environment considers safety like any other parenting philosophy. Montessorians however see past the marketing propaganda of the modern industries developing child products. Most is not necessary and advertisements today scare parents into thinking their child will not be safe unless constrained by a highchair at meal times or that his development will be delayed if he is not plopped in a walker each day. To the contrary, developmental specialist such as myself more often see these devices creating power struggles and hindrance to development.
It is important to sit in the space you are creating and look at it from your child’s perspective. What can she reach from her height or climb? Ensure there are no long chords (electrical, curtain or other) that your child could become tangled in. Purchase heavy furniture that will not topple over if your child uses it to pull up on and make sure young children do not have plushed pillows or bedding with them while sleeping to avoid suffocation. These are all Safety Basics 101 that you probably heard during antenatal classes or know with good ol’ common sense. Always follow manufacturer’s safety precautions for all furnishing; many recommend securing child chest of drawers to the wall.
Is there a sense of order?
Children love and strive for a sense of order! Have you ever seen your child rearrange things, or repetitively pack or unpack something away or on a shelf? They sense they everything in this world has a purpose and a place and they are constantly trying to follow this natural law and ensure it is enforced. It becomes an obsession for some; not just in the physical but also the routine of the day. If one thing goes out of order it could send a toddler into a melt down. Order is important because it gives children a sense of security in their environment. Knowing where something can be found each and every day gives them consistency and peace of mind, the same with knowing what is coming next in the scheme of time.
One way to help with the sense of order in your child’s space is de-cluttering. Children often have too many toys and “things” out and about. Place no more than six to eight toys for example on your child’s shelf and leave out just a couple of interesting books. Rotate these items out every couple of weeks or as you see he is uninterested. Items such as blocks or modelling clay may be out all the time as they are popular open-ended materials that children will constantly gravitate towards creating new purposes.
When you have established a great space, relax! Sit back and watch your child enjoy his new freedoms. You will see his independence and confidence grow. Observe and note any modifications that may need to be made.
Follow along on the Blog for more inspirations.
Below is a video that will help give you some ideas while setting up the ideal environment for your child. It will give you much to think about and also some additional perspectives into the Montessori Approach. While this particular videos aim is for infant and toddlers you will still get a clear idea of the order, structure and independence of the room which applies to any age. Enjoy!