Category Archives: The Prepared Environment

Annabelle's closet, designed for independent dressing.

Our Montessori Home, Sans School

I have really come to enjoy posting bits and pieces from our lives for Montessori Monday, but as I put together my thoughts on The Schooling Dilemma, I realized I may be painting a bit of a confusing picture.

I explained that I admire, fully support, and am quite frankly in awe of parents who choose to homeschool their children using the Montessori method. I support homeschooling, I am a Montessorian to the core, and I strive to implement Montessori philosophy in my home, and in my interactions with all children. While I suspect I will always be guided by Montessori philosophy, I will never homeschool my children using the Montessori method. That is unless I decide to open a school in my home that includes children unrelated to me. We shall see 1 Continue reading

  1. Is this the place where I should admit to hoarding small shelves, tables, chairs, and the like, just in case I should find myself designing a home-based Montessori environment?

Montessori Monday: Gorillas and Mealtimes

Thank you all so much for your enthusiastic support of the new space. Your kind words have made the whole process that much more exciting! It’s Montessori Monday today, but I’m getting ready to post a celebratory giveaway as well, so keep your eyes peeled!

Last week, I shared a couple of baskets I had put together for Annabelle using animal models. When I was creating those, I realized I had almost all of the animals mentioned in her current favorite book: Eric Carle’s From Head to Toe. Naturally, I got online straight away and ordered a camel, a cat, and a gorilla. They arrived very quickly, so we were able to start our week with a very involved reading of the book, complete with models. She heads right for this basket every morning now, and the disproportionately large gorilla is her favorite thing. She has completely forgotten her fancy new doll and now carries the, “Guh-ruh” everywhere. When we’re out and about, she holds him up to anyone who will pay attention (and some people who won’t) and says, “Show guh-ruh.” She follows up, of course, by telling and showing them that the “guh-ruh thump chest!” It really is strange and wonderful to see her as her social self, completely self-directed and seemingly unconcerned with what I think about the situation. Continue reading

Practical Life with a Toddler: Naturally!

An important part of the curriculum in any Montessori classroom is the “exercises of practical life.” Most of the activities found in the Practical Life area of Montessori environments fit into one of three categories: Care of Self, Care of the Environment, or Grace and Courtesy. As you might have guessed, care of self involves things like learning to dress and groom oneself. Care of the Environment includes things like dusting, sweeping, table washing and care of plants; and Grace and Courtesy focuses on basic manners and general kindness toward others.

My background in Montessori has a great deal of influence on the way I have set up our home. I do not, however, design specific practical life exercises. Why? Because I believe that in a home where children are respected and given freedom, and where parents invite children to be a part of all aspects of everyday family life, both inside the house and in the community, all of the aims of the practical life area are easily achieved.

When it comes to arranging an environment that is practical and functional for the developing child, the opportunities are limitless. The following is a basic list of ways that we have arranged our home environment to allow for learning through ‘practical life.’

Care of Self:

  • Stools, toilet seat reducers, and the like allow for independence in things like toileting and handwashing.
  • A toddler accessible closet makes it easy for the child to choose his or her own clothing, and a natural extension of this is practice in dressing oneself.
  • Access to basic items needed for grooming, such as a comb, a toothbrush, and washcloths, allows for independence in these areas of self-care as well.
  • Access to snack items and drinking water help children to regulate and tend to their own feelings of hunger and thirst.
  • Serving meals family style and allowing children to serve their own food and pour their own beverages not only fosters independence in this area, but also helps develop fine motor skills.
  • Choosing developmentally appropriate, easy to put on and take off shoes and clothing helps foster independence and keep frustration to a minimum.
Care of the Environment:
  • A child-sized broom, dustpan, and mop as well cleaning towels and a child-friendly all purpose cleaner make it easy to tidy up after oneself.
  • Modeling is key. Maintaining a sense of order helps the child to develop the same, and they learn by watching to treat belongs with gentleness and care, and to put things back when they are finished using them.
  • Having plants and pets around and involving children in their care is another great opportunity for teaching care of the environment.

Grace and Courtesy

  • Here, modeling is virtually all that is needed. In my opinion, it simply is not developmentally appropriate to expect a toddler to consistently ask for things by saying please and respond to having needs met with a thank you, but over time children will develop these habits if they have seen them exhibited on a regular basis.
  • Bodily autonomy and modeling are important as well. By respecting the child and their right to make decisions about their person: what to wear, when to offer a hug, etc., we are teaching the importance of this type of courtesy and extending it to others is only natural.
Here are a few photos of Annabelle at work in her ‘practical life.’
A floor bed can be viewed as part of the “care of self” category, since it allows for freedom and self-regulation with respect to sleep. Though she still wants to nurse when she gets there, Annabelle now walks to bed herself when she’s ready, and she is welcome to get up when she is well-rested.
Eating at the child-sized table also allows Annabelle to get up as she pleases (care of self). It also makes it easy for her to clean up (care of the environment) when she’s finished. Here she is also demonstrating a bit of grace and courtesy by signing “thank you.”
A step stool and a seat reducer make independent toileting possible. A basket of cloths for wiping and a pail to put them in also help to facilitate self-care in this area.
Chatting with the ladies at the next table over in a cafe, Annabelle practices Grace and Courtesy.
The Learning Tower and a child-sized rolling pin allow Annabelle to participate in food preparation.

 

How do you incorporate the “Exercises of Practical Life” into your daily life?

Linking up to Montessori Monday at One Hook Wonder and Living Montessori Now!

Making Space for Children in an Adult World

Photo Used by Creative Commons License
Credit: Kevin Harber (Kevin H.) on Flickr.
It’s hard to imagine what the world looks and feels like for a very small child. Every piece of furniture in a standard house is too large to climb on to unassisted. People may be all around you, but it’s all but impossible to tell what they’re doing, since you have to crane your neck to see above their waist. You can only go as far as the room you’re in, unless someone has been kind enough to leave a door open for you. Even if they have, it may have been by mistake and no sooner will you make it into the next room than someone will swoop in unannounced to scoop you up and take you back to the place they think you ought to be.

Leaving the house requires that you be strapped tightly into a seat, where your movement is restricted and you can see very little. If you’re lucky, you may be taken to a park or some other open space where you can be free to move about and explore at will. There’s a good chance that you may be going along on errands, however, where you are just as ill-fitted to the space around you. Again you may find large furniture, items too high for you to reach, people who either ignore you altogether, or reach in to touch you without your permission and perhaps make silly, unintelligible noises to coerce you into performing for them with a smile or a giggle. For lack of something better to do, you oblige.

The vast majority of spaces we find ourselves in on a regular basis are designed specifically to be comfortable for adults. The law dictates that they be made accessible to differently-abled adults, so most make at least the bare minimum of effort required to be within the law, but there are no laws requiring that establishments consider the children who may visit them. The children do not have a vote, so they are expected to make do with what they are given.

This is a very sad state of affairs. There is no more important time than childhood for an individual’s development, but children cannot develop freely without space to move about. Without environments suited to their needs, numerous obstacles are placed in the path of the child’s development. As adults, we often fail to see the problem, because everything works just fine for us.

The Montessori “Children’s Houses” were created as an answer to this problem by providing a space where children can move about freely. Every piece of furniture in a Children’s House is scaled to the child’s size so that it can be used by them, and even moved about and rearranged at will. All of the items in the Children’s Houses, including the art, are placed at the child’s level so that they can be easily enjoyed. Everything in the environment is safe for the child and is placed there for his or her use. For those children who attend a Montessori school, this is wonderful, but what about the rest?

We can prepare our homes to welcome our children, providing furniture that is suited to them and items for them to use and explore placed at their level. We can design safe spaces for our children so that they can be permitted to explore without danger or interference from adults. There is much that we can do in our own homes, but what about when we leave the home?

The older Annabelle gets, the more she wants to explore, and the more challenges I am faced with when we’re out and about. She needs opportunities to explore, and opportunities to move about unhindered, but this can be a real challenge in places like the grocery store, where people are moving about without looking down at her level, and could easily collide with and harm her, and where there are many enticing items that are not safe for her to touch. I have implemented a few strategies that allow me both to respect Annabelle, and respect the space that we’re in, but I still find myself feeling as though I’m forcing her to conform to expectations that are not reasonable or realistic for her, because the space we’re in affords me no other choice. I would love to hear your thoughts, and what works for you.


Taking some time to climb the stairs at the mall
before picking up groceries
  • Leave plenty of extra time to get things done, so that it’s easy to move at Annabelle’s pace without becoming stressed or frustrated.
  • Allow time before and after going into a place where Annabelle cannot safely walk about (such as a crowded grocery store), to allow her to walk and explore. I let her wander around on the lawn outside the grocery store for awhile before going inside, for example.
  • Have more than one plan. When we go out shopping, I bring a sling and our shopping cart cover with a favorite object and a snack tucked inside the pocket. When Annabelle tires of riding in the cart, I place her in the sling instead. This respects her need for a change of scenery, and also gives her two separate places from which she can have a bird’s eye view. We don’t use a stroller, as it keeps her from being able to interact with me and others around us. When we’re in a place where she can safely walk, I allow her to do so.
  • Empathize and speak respectfully. Occasionally Annabelle becomes frustrated at points when it’s hard for me to step away and tend to her immediately, such as when my groceries are already half checked and I need to pay for them. When this happens, I simply do my best to acknowledge her needs and let her know that I will meet them just as soon as I can. Her feelings of frustration are valid and she needs to know that she is heard.

I do believe that there is value in taking our children out into the community where they can see new people and places and experience our culture and the world firsthand. It’s also not realistic for many parents, myself included, to avoid taking our children on errands, even if we’d like to. They deserve our consideration, however, both for their emotional needs and for their physical development – no matter where we are. We owe it to them to make space for them wherever and whenever possible.

How do you make space for your children at home? What about outside the home? Do you take your children on errands, or leave them behind?

Sunday Quote: Design and Spaces for Children

In doing some research for an article for the NPN this week, I came across an interesting piece called Aesthetic Codes in Early Childhood Classrooms. In regard to traditional early childhood classrooms in North America, the author writes:


“The flatly colored, outlined stereotyped images of the posters and bulletin board boarders talk down to children and assume that they are not capable of responding to the rich, diverse images and artifacts, including images from popular media culture, which the world’s cultures have created.”


I have often been asked, and struggled to eloquently explain, why it is that Montessori classrooms and nurseries typically avoid the design themes seen in traditional spaces for children. It is common to see brightly decorated spaces done exclusively in the primary colors, and cartoon like characters in artwork. While there is nothing fundamentally wrong with any of these elements on their own, the quote above is a great reminder that children are perfectly capable of appreciating good art and a space that is aesthetically pleasing to the adult is not somehow above the child. Just as there’s no reason why I can’t appreciate a good Eric Carle illustration, there is no reason why Annabelle can’t enjoy a beautiful fresco or take in a Renoir. This is an idea we tried to keep in mind in creating her nursery, and one that will continue to guide my design of spaces for her in our home.