Montessori Basics Principle #3 Part 1
What is the Prepared Environment?
The Montessori classroom by design is beautiful and carefully curated to bring children into an environment that is rich in learning opportunities. It is a place where independent work is encouraged and celebrated. Beautiful materials are displayed on low shelves and spaces are set up that fit little hands and bodies perfectly. The materials in these learning spaces have a specific purpose and are presented to children in a way that allows them to learn independently and at their own pace. It is by nature child-centered, child sized and promotes independence and freedom of movement.
Can you picture it? Have you seen a space like this? Do you have one already? Whether you are new to the ‘Montessori Prepared Environment’ or a seasoned veteran, we are talking specifically in this post about how to create these spaces in your own homes. It is our hope that there will be something for everyone in here. :)
As discussed in Principle #2, there are several things that make up a prepared environment. As a quick reminder, I will review some of the most important key things here.
- Allowing for Independence: Creating an environment with activities that promote a child’s ability to be independent is the cornerstone to a Montessori environment. This means making sure children have access to their learning materials and that things are arranged in homes and classrooms so that children can reach them and use them with little to no adult help.
- Indirect Preparation for Learning: While we prepare activities with a certain goal in mind which is called direct preparation, many activities have what we call an indirect preparation. This is an activity that will prepare a child for something else in the future. A lot of times, we isolate activities so later down the road we can combine them into one larger activity. A great example of this is cooking. Having a work that practices grating will be used down the road with other cooking skills so a child can make a complete recipe.
- Creating Order: This is very important in a Montessori environment. Because a small child is trying to make sense out of his/her environment, it is crucial to have a place for everything which allows them to be able to process and organize in their minds. This also holds true for order and consistency of the adult in their lives and how they approach daily living. It can also refer to the order of presenting materials as well as the process for cleaning up materials and activities.
- Choice: The Montessori environment is set up so that children can make choices from a range of activities that interests them.
- Freedom: It is essential for children to not only be able to freely choose their work but to also have freedom to work as long as he/she wants to or not to work if he/she doesn’t want to. Children also need the freedom to work without interruptions. This of course works beautifully as long as a child’s choices don’t interfere with other children’s rights to work freely.
- Movement: Allowing children the freedom to move about in their environment, so that he/she can come into contact with the things and people that are crucial or important to his/her personal development.
- Control of Error/Self Correction: The Montessori environment and materials or activities should be prepared in a way that allows your child to be aware of mistakes that are made while working with a material so they can correct the error themselves. Several of our printables have a control of error built in so that children can check themselves to see if they are putting the materials together correctly. This is true of all of Maria Montessori formal works as well.
Where to Start
Trying to figure out how to get started with a Montessori home lifestyle can be daunting. There are so many people out there giving great advice on what to do and how to do it and I’m sure it can get a little confusing at times. If you haven’t had formal Montessori training and you are a parent that wants to get started with it, you might feel overwhelmed. But that’s ok! And that’s why we are here to help! I want to share with you some of the things that I’ve learned and used over the past almost 30 years in my classrooms, at my school and in my home.
In a classroom or school setting, there’s lots of space for all of the Montessori shelves, learning areas and materials. In our California School, we have shelves for each of our subjects or areas of focus and then more shelves and spaces within those that we develop for our student’s learning. We also have several work spaces such as child sized tables/chairs and floor space for individual and group learning inside. Outdoor spaces for learning are just through a door and we have gardens as well as an outdoor classroom that encourages and promotes self discovery, learning and independence.
It would be awesome to have our homes set up as a whole Montessori learning environment and it would be an awesome goal to incorporate a full home Montessori lifestyle, but at first, it might be that you need to start out slowly. If you are more of a veteran to Montessori, you may be ready to add several Montessori learning spaces to your home or beef up what you already have. Wherever you are starting, here is a list of areas or learning spaces that we recommend in your homes. Start with one of these and as you grow and learn more about the Montessori way along your Montessori journey, add more spaces.
Mostly I want you to remember here that it isn’t necessary to have a Montessori School in your home, your home is the perfect learning environment for your child. But setting up a Montessori learning environment, one that follows Montessori philosophies is the goal. A few inspirational words from Maria Montessori on this subject……
“We might then say that school life and family life are but two pages of the same book. Yet in family life there is something special which the school cannot copy, which the school cannot offer.” –The Creative Development of the Child: Vol 2
Recommended Montessori Home Learning Areas and Where to Put Them!
- Shelf Work………this could be in a family room or bedroom.
In this area, you would have a shelf that would house learning materials in sensorial development or more academic areas of literacy, numeracy, cultural subjects, etc. In this photo, we show two shelves but you can just have one. I suggest about 6 different works on each shelf that are all individually held by a basket or on a tray. The key is to make sure that everything has a place so that you can initially show your child where each piece of work goes and then he/she can work independently at cleaning up and returning work to it’s home. A lot of times, we like to do shelves that have more of a thematic unit emphasis but it is not necessary at all.
- Shelf Work………this could be in a family room or bedroom.
Typically in our classrooms, I would have academic shelves that housed all of the subject areas and Montessori materials. Then, I would also have a thematic shelf of study that was based on students interests at the time. I have found, though, that children become pretty interested in what you put out regardless of the theme if they are developmentally ready for that particular material and it has been created with that development in mind. But make sure that you are always following the child and seeing what his/her interests are and incorporating them daily into your work, play and learning cycles.
- Practical Life Work Area….this should be near the kitchen.
I like the idea of using a space near the kitchen especially because in Montessori practical life work, it’s important to be able to have a space for your child where he/she can get water easily for dishwashing, cleaning or cooking, etc. and since we know that as children are learning, spills are inevitable, it’s best to be in a space that is easier to clean up.
This would also be a space where your child can get their own drinking water and make/assemble their own snacks. This is also a great place to have materials for setting a table and utensils used for cooking or food preparation work. Here are a few examples of what that might look like.
- Entryway or MudRoom Area…..this area is usually found by the front door or any door where you enter your house. In this area you would have a:
- Low bench or chair for your child to sit on while putting on or taking off his/her shoes
- Basket or place where they put their shoe
- Low coat rack or hook to hang their jacket and
- Place for mittens, hats or umbrellas if necessary
If you live in a really sunny area, maybe you would have sunscreen and sunglasses in this space as well. Make it relevant to your needs of course.
- Dressing Area…..this is usually in the bedroom. It is optimal to have a place where your child can reach his own clothes. A place to house socks, underwear, t-shirts, shorts, pants and hanging clothes. We love this beautiful wardrobe by Sprout kids. You can easily copy this idea by putting a hanging bar in a bookshelf and taking out a few shelves. We suggest only having a few choices out for your child to pick from each day. A place for one or two pairs of shoes, a few pairs of socks, underwear, 2-3 shirts and pants or shorts, etc. Keep all of the rest of your child’s clothing in a larger closet or up higher so the choices are limited. By limiting the choices, your child can more easily make decisions and the process of independence is still in tack. A win win for everyone!
- Toilet Learning/Self Care…….this would be in a space in your bathroom. If you have a child that is at this stage in his or her development you can set up a little area where they have their potty learning toilet, toilet paper, some books and anything else they might need. If they are independently using the toilet already, the bathroom is a great place to have an area where your child can reach the sink easily on a stool to brush their teeth, comb their hair and wash their hands. You can easily set up an area where their brush, toothbrush and kleenex are accessible and easy to get to during the day as well.
- Practical Life Work Area….this should be near the kitchen.
This is a wonderful self care area from Monti Kids. We loved this so much we are creating something similar in our homes right now.
- Outdoor work and play space……this would be outside of course:) Maybe you have a sunroom or an area that is right off one of your learning spaces, a door that opens up to your outdoor space or a deck, etc. where you can set up more messy play learning like sensory tubs or a mud kitchen. Any and all work is perfect for doing outdoors. You can bring your indoor work outside or just work in the garden with your children and go for walks to explore. I think the key though is to spend as much time outdoors as you can.
Organize your outdoor spaces just as you would your indoor spaces. Find ways to make your child’s outdoor tools accessible such as:
• hanging up their child sized rakes and brooms at their level
•having a shelf that has a place for their buckets, aprons and hand trowels
•designating an area for their riding toys, balls and other outdoor play equipment.
As a side note here, In addition to these areas, you can add in a shelf space for sensorial work, language, math and cultural subject activities, too. We will discuss in upcoming posts about each of the areas of Montessori but for now, just having a space where we can begin to add work is enough!
Find the Right Place
After reading through the list above, where does starting your Montessori space make sense? I actually have several learning spaces around my home for my grandchildren. One on every floor of our 3 story house. I definitely like to have a space in the kitchen for Practical Life work and I also prefer to have a space in a room where we can lay work out on the floor and then of course I have a studio that is geared towards 3-6 year olds. Honestly, I’ve seen many different ways and spaces used for Montessori shelf work so you will need to decide what works best for your family. There is no right or wrong. Remember, Montessori is a way of life, a lifestyle that is inclusive of many different ways. Once we understand the foundational premise of it, we will build from them so you are well on your way!