Updated: Jun 13, 2021
The prepared environment is a staple in the Montessori method. We make sure the child has everything they need within reach and that there is order.
"The first aim of the prepared environment is, as far as it is possible, to render the growing child independent of the adult." -Dr. Maria Montessori
A home is not a school.
In a classroom there are predominantly children of similar ages, and everything is set up for them. A home however, needs to cater to each individual and collectively the whole family’s needs. Some set up 'stations' at the childs height where they have everything they need. Others use step stools or other tools for the child to reach the adult size environment. Both are equally good options and every family needs to choose what's best for them. Remember that Maria Montessori set up her classrooms to resemble the home - not the other way around. A prepared environment does NOT mean an expensive environment. DIY's and smart solutions go a long way!
A prepared environment gives the child structure and order, freedom of movement, freedom of choice and beauty. It helps the child develop:
A sense of order
A mathematical mind
An ability to concentrate
Montessori and 'Yes-spaces'
Some people make sure that the child is free to touch and play with anything they can reach. There is nothing that is restricted. This is called a 'Yes space', and really a RIE set up. RIE (pronounced RYE) stands for Resources for Infant Educarers, an approach founded by Magda Gerber in the late 1970s. RIE and Montessori go hand in hand for some parents, but there are differences, this being one of them. A Montessori environment can have things that are not for the child. We give the child freedom but also responsibility. We believe that children should have clear age appropriate boundaries. We add plants and beauty to the environment to inspire and teach the child. They are not meant to be played with though; rather the child is encouraged to help take care of them.
Areas to prepare at home
In a school environment, we prepare the classroom in a specific way: Practical life, sensorial, math, language and culture. A home setup doesn’t need to be the same. The practical life activities should mostly be included in everyday life, and take place in the place the activity naturally occurs. Practical life is huge in Montessori, especially for children aged 0 - 6 years.
Setting up your home should be done over time. Many people feel hugely inspired when they find Montessori and are suddenly urged to make lots of changes around their home. This can lead to some feeling overwhelmed at what to do first. Stop, breath, take your time, there’s no rush. Too many changes at once will be difficult for both you and the child. A child aged 0 - 6 years craves order. Multiple big changes mess with the child’s need for order and may cause meltdowns, even if the changes are for the better.
Observe your environment from the childs perspective. Do they have everything they need? Can they reach everything? Are there any potentially dangerous things that need to be secured? Often all you need really need do is think about small tweaks: a hook here, a basket there, some furniture moved to be better placed for the child. Observe your child to ascertain what needs doing.
A full length mirror is needed in the main areas so the child can check if their nose or face needs wiping, or if they have food stains on their clothes etc.
Kitchen: The child should be able to do the following things independently: wash their hands with soap and dry them; find child sized tools for cooking, glasses, pitchers, plates and cutlery for mealtimes. A lot of Montessori families place a childs daily snack allowance within reach, and give autonomy over when to eat it. The child will also need to know where to put the items they have used and where to find cloths for wiping up spills and a broom or mop to clean after meals.
Bathroom: The child should be able to wash hands independently. Make sure they can reach the soap, have water (via a tap or jug) and towels etc. available. Use a stool or a separate station. Some use a potty, others skip that and use the toilet straight from nappies. Either is fine.
Hallway: Have a designated place for shoes and jackets. Low hooks and/or baskets for outdoor wear. A chair or stool can be used to make it easier to put shoes on independently.
Play/work area: The play/work area is the area the child spends the most time in. Consider if you are homeschooling, or if it is an addition to school. A homeschool room usually have more Montessori materials and activities. A playroom that is in addition to school usually have more open ended toys. Display all activities beautifully on a shelf, using baskets and trays to seperate each activity. It gives order and helps the child be independent by making it easy for the child to find what they need. It also helps the child bring the activity to where they want to work and to place it back on the right spot when finished.
If your child is in a Montessori school during the day, it is not recommended to use Montessori materials at home. This is because it’s thought that it may be counter-productive as they may struggle to be engaged at school and/or learn it in a different way from us, which may cause confusion.
Bedroom: It's recommended to not have too many toys and/or distractions in the sleeping area. If you have a combined bedroom and playroom, try to make sure the shelves with activities are not visible from the bed.
Real items and natural materials
Dr. Maria Montessori suggested using real, child sized furniture and items for kids. Real glasses and cutlery etc. That helps the child feel part of society and helps them learn how to behave. Using glass and other breakable materials teaches the child how to handle things with care, gives natural consequences if they break, and gives opportunities to show how to fix them.
Natural materials are preferred for toys and other items because:
Weight corresponds to size
Different materials has different textures, smell and taste. The ultimate sensorial experiences!
They are usually more beautiful
They are breakable, which means the child learns how to take care of things
They are often more expensive (haha, I know you didn't expect that as a positive!), which means you buy less.
Are you ready to set up a prepared environment? Remember to observe, find needs and try and fulfil them. That is what Maria Montessori did! One small step at a time will take you a long way.
Co-authored and edited by Mie Mari Sløk Rusdal and Jude Saffron
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