Monday, 27 March 2017

How the Prepared Environment Fits in Our Home

Recently I was asked to do an interview by one of the Montessori bloggers I follow, which was a humbling opportunity I was glad to be a part of. One of the questions in the interview asked about how my parenting is influenced by Montessori.

I wrote about how Montessori has shown me the value of concentration and patience, but the way in which Montessori influences my parenting that stood out to me was how much our evolving prepared environment has positively benefited the kids. This blog has a good explanation of what the Montessori prepared environment should embody, but I thought I would write about how the prepared environment fits into our home life.

We are, by no means, perfectly set up for Montessori. In fact, the other day as I was writing the first draft of this post, Benedict broke a glass votive and Jerome was pouring the water from his spray bottle all over the floor. (I am discovering, more and more, how little material things matter to me. Broken items, as long as it was done by accident and not as a result of needlessly destructive play, generally do not phase me anymore.)

1. I have tried to think of the children in each room

There is no room in the house that does not have some area of it prepared for the children (except the laundry room, I suppose). This means that, wherever the children go, they can engage in some form of activity that is meant for them.

Sometimes it is as simple as the bed in the spare bedroom which I allow Jerome to jump and play on to his heart's content (and he does, for hours, daily) or the mirror in my room that is absolutely covered in face and hand prints. Or it is more specifically prepared for them, like the shelves in our living room and the discovery baskets I have in different rooms throughout the house.

The basket in the masterbedroom.
The basket in Benedict's room.

In fact, many people have commented on how my children don't seem to be mischievous, and I know I can attribute part of this to Montessori. Our home is set up in a way that is prepared and safe for them, offering them many meaningful and constructive ways to learn, explore, and entertain themselves, as well as practical experiences and opportunities to use real tools, and I believe they are fulfilled by this prepared environment and do not need to seek outside of it (as often).

2. It teaches the children order

Because I have organized everything with my children in mind, it is easy for Jerome to learn where things belong and to help me keep the house in order. He has a laundry basket in his room which he will use on his own or if I specifically ask him to pick something up, he knows where to put his shoes and slippers when he takes them off, and he can clean up all of the toys, putting them away in their proper places, with very little assistance from me.

Notice the word can in the above statement. He often needs me to remind him, still, and help him get started, but I do find it makes it so much easier for him. I have come across him cleaning up of his own accord, and there is probably nothing more special to find a two-year-old doing.

The shelves I am testing out for Benedict.
Jerome often will bring me a wrapper, piece of paper, or other similiar object, and ask me if he can put it in the garbage, and he will come running with he hears me changing Benedict's diaper, so he can help me with the "stickers" and put the dirty diaper in the garbage.

3. It encourages positive outlets

Jerome spends much of his day playing with cars (in various locations of the house) or reading books. He always has some special cars in his room which he insists on sleeping with, but he has just started going in his room to play with them for an hour or so at a time. We have the train set, potato head, cars, Schleich animals, and some angry bird projectile toys in baskets in the living room which he plays with the most, and I find these options, easily accessible and attractingly displayed, are enough to keep him happily entertained most of the time.

My gentle two-year-old reading one of his favourite books,
a chapter book.

When that time of day that many households refer to as the witching hour comes around, we are often able to avoid meltdowns and whining by pulling out one of the works I keep prepared for Jerome, playdough, or I set him up with supper prep on his kitchen stand.

One of my favorite ways preparing the environment has affected the children, is in how I have decided to present our books.

For about a month after Christmas, I had rearranged our books because I did not feel the basket I had them in was working. The books in this basket had not seemed enticing to the boys, I think because there were too many crowded together. We bought side tables for the living room with cupboards I had wanted to use for the kids, but having the books in these cupboards reduced the enticement of the books even more.

A peaceful space, ready for the coming day of reading.
I decided to rearrange the living room to make room for a reading corner, and it was an immediate difference. That first day, both boys were drawn to the corner, even my one-year-old. I have the books in a magazine rack currently, and while it is not ideal, I know it works much better than any of my other solutions have. Jerome loves to sit on the rug I have there, pulling each book out and asking me about the pictures, and Benedict (who is surprisingly gentle, even with paper books) takes books out just to look at them and to try at turning pages.

The very first day I tried out the reading corner,
before I got the magazine rack.

4. It encourages independence

I have loved our drinking station, even on the days when Jerome has filled, and then emptied, cup after cup. It is so interesting to watch him as he completes a task like this, wondering what inner order he is trying to discover.

Almost every cup in his drawer, filled to some differing level with water.
There are few boundaries we have when it comes to the children showing curiosity. If they are not wasting, being destructive to materials or other people, or are endangering themselves or other people, we tend to let them be. This has resulted in some really good moments of discovery or independent work, such as Jerome cleaning up with tongs from the kitchen drawer or just transferring little objects around the room in this way, or spending long amounts of time admiring the different rings and cuff links in the box on Tharin's side table.

One of my favorite areas of independence has been potty learning. I just removed the potty from the bathroom and showed him how to independently use the toilet with a step stool, and it has not phased him at all.

Allowing for independence, and setting up ways that he can gain practical independence, has been one of the most challenging areas for me. It requires such a shift from me, and I am slowly, but hopefully surely, becoming more accustomed to it. This is most challenging for me, as Jerome needs me to demonstrate and then be consistent in this routine or expectation.

For example, for a week or so I was having him set his spot at the table with his mat, a fork, plate, cup and little pitcher of water, and then clear it all into a tub and wipe his place down afterward. But this is so much slower, and requires so many more steps, than the way we have always done meal time, and after that week, I stopped expecting it of him.

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