We are living through history. And with unprecedented times come unprecedented experiences, choices, and challenges. Now, that we are all living in a temporary house-arrest until the Coronavirus pandemic is over, we are not only mothers BUT also teachers, caregivers, cooks, cleaners, etc. Due to the school’s closure for more than 2 months now, we are trying our best to homeschool our children, too.
Homeschooling often involves keeping multiple aged children constructively occupied. Most of us don’t have several children of the same age which we can teach all at once. We must integrate our different aged children into the same learning environment.
In our home, we start our day with morning time, where all of our children are gathered for learning. Some of the material will go over the heads of the littlest ones (exposing them to amazing vocabulary), and some of it, such as singing the ABC song, will bore the older ones (but also teach them patience). Once morning time is over, we facilitate independent learning with even the youngest students.
The goal is to develop independent learners because when children are directing some aspects of their education, they are going to be more motivated about what they are learning, and parents are going to be free to pursue their own working, (or feed a baby, or start a load of laundry).
This brings us to the subject of THE PREPARED ENVIRONMENT.
A prepared environment is a Montessori term that means a classroom that is carefully organized for optimum learning. In a homeschool environment (that we ALL have turned our homes into since #coronavirus pandemic), it is completely possible to have a beautiful environment for learning, one which facilitates independent learning.
This is my adaptation of how these work in a homeschool (since the start of Covid-19 pandemic).
Young children are carefully taught how to do things. How to make their bed, get dressed, brush their teeth, and wash their hands are all part of the basic lessons.
To allow children to do things for themselves in the bathroom, the prepared environment should facilitate and maximize independent learning and exploration.
Some tips for setting up Montessori-style bathroom:
- Low step or a stool for them to reach the the bathroom’s ink and to climb into the bath
- A small bar of soap or a soap pump they can manage by themselves to wash hands
- Toothbrush, toothpaste, hairbrush within the child’s reach
- Mirror at the child’s height or accessible to them
- A basket for dirty clothing
- Low hook or towel rail for the child to have access to their towel
- Small travel-sized bottles for body wash, shampoo and conditioner that the child can learn to use – refill each day with a small amount if they like to squeeze bottles.
- A changing area = if the child is wearing diapers or nappies, once they are standing they often don’t like to be laid down to change them. Instead, we can change them standing up in the bathroom to introduce them to the idea that this is where they will use the toilet. About potty training, you can read more in this post here
Children, from a young age, are allowed to get their snacks and drinks but they are taught how to do it and how to clean up after themselves as well.
A minimum amount of clothes are kept in drawers low enough for children to reach, and toys are also kept to a minimum so that a child can easily pick up after herself.
Children have their own tools: a small broom and dustpan, a child-sized table and chairs, facilitate children helping in the home, which leads to independence.
Within the framework of order, there is great freedom. After you have gathered for morning time, young children are allowed some freedom to choose which activity to do next.
A child may choose to color first or to do a pouring exercise. They may choose to wash some dishes or sew a button on a cloth. They may choose to copy a sentence or do a counting exercise. Children are given a list of expectations for the day, through the daily plan for bigger kids, or a daily chore routine, or checklist, but they have some freedom about what to do when.
However, a child is not allowed the freedom to stay in their pajamas all-day watching cartoons. So, although freedom is highly prized in a Montessori environment, and can be a great motivator for young children, it is not freedom from all restraints, it is more simple, the freedom to choose activities that are available within the prepared structure.
A Montessori environment should be beautiful, but so should be your home. Beauty doesn’t have to require a lot of money. It can involve simple things such as getting rid of broken toys and excess furniture.
It can involve putting fresh paint on a tired and chipped wall or finding a thrifted basket to keep blankets and toys in, instead of strewing them across the floor. Life with children involves messes but putting in the effort to keep your home an inspiring place can have a big impact.
Keeping the T.V. off and instead, having a variety of lovely books, and music and imagination rich tools or toys will make a major difference in the atmosphere of your home.
When there is a small selection of books displayed with the covers on view, it’s just so much more attractive and easy to get the attention of a young child. They can see at a glance what is available. Not only can they see their favorites, but they can also be enticed to try new ones too.
In a traditional bookshelf, you just see the spines. Kids can find the books but it’s more work for them, particularly for children who do not show a natural interest in books.
It’s easier for a young child to put the books away too rather than trying to squeeze a book back between two others.
How many books? I always say less is more! Too many and you will find them just pulling them off the bookshelf.
For the book corner in our home, I am using one from Ikea- these simple shelves hung at a low height and they are great to display books – FLISAT and MOSSLANDA– to hold books front-facing for an easy choice.
You might be interested to know why reading aloud to bigger kids is still so important? Find out the answer here.
In the children’s library, it is also worth doing a review, finding a place for your favorite books, which you often come back to together, and for the rest reach for rotation. Better to have fewer and rotate them once a week or when you notice they aren’t showing as much interest in them. You know how much young kids just love to repeat their favorites. So you don’t need to have more than 5-10 books out at a time.
CLICK HERE: find a shortlist of the best books for kids per age (infants, toddlers, kindergartens).
While Structure and Order seem counter-intuitive to the aforementioned freedom, nothing could be further from the truth. Structure and Order in the Montessori philosophy accurately reflect the sense of structure and order in the universe.
Organizing the home space, the rhythm of the day and the selection of arriving stimuli can significantly reduce the child’s everyday stress and give space for positive growth, development of creativity, and make it calm and relaxed. By simplifying the space in a child’s room, reducing the amount of “distractions”, like toys and clutter, we increase its ability to focus attention and focus on a specific occupation, because too many things surrounded by children means that they are unable to see or sink into the world around them.
How to organize TOYS? I find the easiest way to organize is to divide toys into categories:
- educational toys that support both cognitive development and motor skills, such as puzzles, puzzles, sorters or games;
- artistic toys, e.g. paper, glue, crayons, plasticize, paints, etc.;
- toys for play sports, e.g. balls and other sports equipment, wheeled vehicles, pushers;
- building toys, e.g. wooden blocks, Lego and other toys for the development of small motor skills;
- musical toys, i.e. all kinds of instruments;
- toys that imitate everyday activities, that is toys for emotional and social development, and supporting language skills, when the child presents the stories he invented, such as kitchen sets, cars, fire station, animal figurines, plush toys.
Often, despite such a reorganization of toys, there are still too many of them.
Then their turnover works well: some of the toys will be hidden, and after some time will appear again (and others will disappear).
At my home, I have a special storage place to contain most of the toys and rotate them when necessary. I can suggest you a simple Ikea BESTA shelves (various sizes) – these white shelves are simple and practical. Build them to fit your space, but my favorite is the basic element 120x40x38 cm with one shelf.
Such a scheme of rotational exchange of toys has many pluses:
- having fewer available toys reduce over-stimulation, making children more creative;
- every moment of changing the set of toys causes positive emotions related
- rotation gives a chance to eliminate toys from which children have already grown up.
5.Nature and Reality
When children have an opportunity to interact with nature it can be both inspiring and calming for them. This is why it is important to keep your environment as natural as possible.
If possible, spend time every day playing outside.
Keep your indoor space tuned towards creation as well by using natural materials such as wood and glass in your kitchen and workspaces and avoiding plastic toys and tools (we make an exception for a variety of items, such as Legos and toy animals.)
Find out here why the outdoor education opens children’s eyes to the world?
Although these are some examples of basic things we have done to create an environment that accommodates learning, it is all grace if things go as hoped for. There are mornings where I fail to follow through on good habits and my kitchen ends up a disaster because the children have all freely helped themselves to breakfast (good), spilling sugar and smearing jam across the counter in the process(bad)!
The first aim of the prepared environment is, as far as it is possible, to render the growing child independent of the adult.
—Maria Montessori The Secret of Childhood, 1966
However, it is better to put in the effort, and through baby steps move towards a learning environment that makes it easier for children to learn than to not even try. It is better to receive forgiveness when you miss the mark than to shoot for nothing.
And we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves in the process. By being kinder and more forgiving of ourselves, we use the energy that would be spent on feeling bad for actually moving in the right direction.
Fewer, better and more beautiful things make for a cozy and welcoming respite that provides the peace and comfort we need to nourish the souls and strengthen bonds of our family.
If you are interested in knowing more about the Montessori philosophy, start here:
- Basic Principles of Montessori – Definitions and clarifications.
- Can we apply the Montessori approach at home if our child does not go to Montessori school?