Thursday, June 2, 2011

Creating a Montessori Home Environment

Dr. Maria Montessori was a scientist and a medical doctor. Through her study, she created her first “prepared environment” by observing the needs of her children.  As parents, we must observe our children to create a proper home environment that is responsive to their needs of development.

One of the fundamental roles of a Montessori teacher is for him/her to create a prepared environment that allows children to be independent and successful. The environment is simple, beautiful and ordered. Children need this order. The child looks to us to help him/her understand the real world, therefore we emphasize reality. Because Montessori emphasizes on reality-based hands-on learning, Montessori classrooms are arranged with child-size furniture, open spaces to invite movement and exploration and Montessori materials available on shelves. “Prepared” environments allow the teacher to spend each day giving meaningful presentations or demonstrations of various academic and or life skills activities. This allows children to develop self-control, the love of learning and an internal set of guidelines that become part of their life-long personalities.

It is crucial for parents to also “prepare” their home environment. A prepared environment not only includes the physical materials, it also encompasses the atmosphere and the rules that govern the environment.  Just like school, the “prepared” home environment will allow your child to become more independent, responsible and contribute as a member of the home community.  The child's surroundings are important because from birth through age six, children undergo a special period of interest and receptivity, Dr. Montessori termed this the Absorbent Mind. This was the way Dr. Montessori described the minds of young children. Much of our daily learning is unconscious because the brains of young children have been wired to absorb information automatically and effortlessly, just like sponges. Dr. Montessori saw the absorbent mind in two phases. During the first initial phase, from birth to three years old, the young child unknowingly or unconsciously acquires his/her basic abilities. She called it the period of unconscious creation. The child's work during this period is to become independent from the adult for his basic human functions. He learns to speak, to walk, to gain control of his hands and to master his bodily functions. Once these basic skills are incorporated into his schema, by about age three, he moves into the next phase of the absorbent mind, which Montessori called the period of conscious work. During this period, the child's mind compels him to perfect in himself that which is now there. His fundamental task during this phase is freedom; freedom to move purposefully, freedom to choose and freedom to concentrate. His mantra is "Let Me Do It Myself!"

Preparing the Home Environment

The child from birth to six is being introduced to the world.  Montessorians do not believe in pushing the child, but strongly believe in providing an environment that is rich and that will develop the “whole” child. Young children show an amazing interest in a wide range of various subjects. A rich environment creates that interest and extends the child’s experience, widening his/her grasp of such things in many subject areas. Observations over the years prove the child’s built-in curiosity and interest. That has taught us to focus on the preparation of the early environment and allow the child to choose, use his/her senses and to teach him/herself.  The adult’s challenge is to be sure that the environment offers all of the key experiences necessary for the child’s success.  Rather than relying on traditional verbal lessons, computers, television, and videos rely on the same abilities developed in the areas of practical life and meaningful “work” and activities i.e. educational and intellectual toys.  At school, Montessorians create an environment rich in experiments, games, materials, and books which the child can select as the interest arises, providing experiences of hand and mind working together for an intelligent purpose. Parent’s can do the same at home.

Organizing the Home Environment
The environment is extremely important at any level of the development of the child.  To show respect for the developing sense of beauty, to aid the growing independence, and to inspire the child to activity, choose the best of everything for the environment. Children at this age often prefer to work on the floor on rugs instead of a table. Rugs mark the workspace just as would a table.  In the classroom, we use simple light colors and shades, plain in design so that the child can focus on his work.   
In the classroom, materials are attractively arranged on shelves according to subject – language, math, sensorial, practical life, cultural, music and art.  Each piece of material has a special permanent place so that children know where to find it and where to put it away for the next person when finished.  Materials are arranged from the most simple to the more complex. At home rather than keeping things in large toy chests or boxes, use trays and baskets for most things.  The child’s work can be sorted on shelves, into various categories; blocks, various mixed toys, puzzles, art materials, kitchen tools, etc.  This makes finding and putting materials away easier and enjoyable.   

The Kitchen

From the time a child learns to sit up, provide a small table and chair, sized so the child's feet touch the floor.  This is a place for eating, doing projects, and preparing
food.  A two-step stool will allow the child to reach the sink and counter.  At approximately 18 months of age, begin showing children simple food preparation skills:  slicing bananas and cheese, spreading peanut butter.  Choose tools that are safe and child-sized for both cooking and cleaning, and then carefully demonstrate their use. In the refrigerator, use the bottom shelf to store fruits and snacks. Also provide a small pitcher with juice or water so the child can pour their own drink.  In the pantry set aside the lower shelves for the children. At the very bottom, juice boxes, applesauce in cups, and raisin boxes can be neatly arranged in small baskets. A shelf higher can be used for crackers, dried fruit, cereal‚ neatly arranged in clear canisters with easy open lids. Your child should be free to wander in at any time, and choose a snack or juice from the shelves. When the child states they are hungry you can simply reply: "Please fix yourself a snack from the pantry." Also arrange in the pantry: napkins folded in a box, paper towels separated and stacked for easy clean up, child-size aprons on low hooks, and a small dust pan and hand broom for clean up. Children should be responsible to set their own table, clear the table, pushing in their chair and finally rinsing the dishes. Children enjoy sweeping, mopping, scrubbing, and polishing.  These activities give a child the opportunity to be responsible and contribute to family life.

The Bathroom
After 18 months, children can use the toilet with a stool.  During this sensitive period, if the child is in underpants most, if not all of the time, he will quickly learn to sense when his bladder is full and he needs to go to the bathroom. Underpants should be stored on a low shelf in a cubby, or in an easily accessible drawer so the child can get them for herself as needed. A hamper should be provided for wet underpants and towels used for clean up. Most children, who are put into underpants at this age, can use the toilet consistently within a few weeks or months. They learn this through their desire to be independent. It is a self-motivated process. The parent can be encouraging and can prepare the environment to support the child when he is ready: using the cotton training pants, allowing access to the bathroom, providing an appropriate way for the child to explore both the use of the toilet and to play with water, their patient explanation of body functions, the provision of old towels for cleaning up accidents, and their gentle understanding when accidents do occur. A two-step stool will allow hand-washing at the sink.

The Play Area

Put most of the toys, learning activities and materials into storage, leaving only current favorites.  Rotate toys every month, leaving those they use regularly and bringing some forgotten toys out of storage.  Each toy should have an attractive basket, box, or special place. The baskets can be labeled with words and or pictures for easy restoring. A small basket with rugs is ideal for the child to define their own work space. Low shelves, like those used in our Montessori classrooms, allow the child to see and organize their materials.

The Bedroom
From age two months to two years, we provide a low bed or mattress on the floor.  This allows movement and independence, and the room must be safe.  Low drawers and a low closet rod allow the child to choose and put away clothing.  Provide a low shelf for a small number of quiet toys and books. The bedroom should be decorated in a restful, rather than stimulating tone.

Take your child outdoors every day.  Go for walks at his/her pace, explore, notice the natural world.  Play in sand and water; find hills and equipment to climb.  As indoors, allow your child to help with work - raking, digging, shoveling snow.  Introduce the miracle of gardening.

Developmental Chart for Home Tasks and Chores  

Empower your child to becoming as independent as they can in their natural environment. Please see the compiled list of age appropriate tasks that you can expect your child to participate in as they grow into self-reliant and independent young people.

13 Months: Imitates housework
18 Months: Picks up toys and puts them away with parental reminders and initial assistance
2 Years: Copies parents domestic activities
3 Years: Carries things without dropping them, dusts, dries dishes, gardens, setting table, puts toys away and wipes spills.
4 Years: Prepares dry cereal and snacks, sorts laundry, feeding birds and pets, loading and unloading dishwasher, watering plants
5 Years: Puts things away neatly, makes a sandwich, takes out trash, picks up mail, makes the bed, puts clothes away and answers the phone correctly
6 Years: Does simple errands, does house chores without redoing them, cleans sink, washes dishes, cooks simple meals, hangs up clothes, car washing - have bucket, soap, etc. in certain place, weeding, taking out trash

Your child needs to be a contributor in the family and feel his contribution is important!