Tuesday, April 14, 2020

The Home Environment

One of the key beliefs of Montessori philosophy is that children want to learn and actually are learning all the time. Given a rich environment and opportunity to work and explore, children will engage in all kinds of learning experiences. One of the best things you can do during this extended time at home with children (if you have the time and want to) is to look at your home environment from your child's perspective and enrich it to support your child's concentration and independence.

Aesthetically, Montessori environments are meant to be:

Simple- not too much offered at once, just what is used and needed at the moment.

Uncluttered- there is a place for everything, and everything is in it's place. The order of the external environment is meant to support the development of order in the child.

Reality Based- things from nature adorn the environment, as do beautiful paintings or prints. 

Beautiful- it is an inspiring space that calls the child to be in it.

Complete- materials in it are not broken or have missing parts. All that the child needs to be independent can be found there. 

(photo from here)

Creating an environment that is conducive to your child's independence and concentration

1. Are the tools your child needs to be independent accessible and available to them?

If your child can access the things they need to clean up spills/get themselves snacks/get drinks of water/get materials needed for work and play/access their own clothing for dressing and are shown (by you) slowly and deliberately how to do these things, they are more likely to do them on their own. Children like to be independent, but they need you to show them how first, and they also need the tools to be available to them and within their reach.

2. Do they have enough but not too many materials for engagement during the day available and in order?

When children have too many toys, or too many options to play with it can be difficult and overwhelming to choose anything to play with at all. We see this in our classroom. Often we prune whole areas of materials and put away all manner of materials that children are not interested in working with at the moment. If someone by chance asks me later if they can have that dinosaur puzzle back, I gladly put it back on the shelf. As a rule we try to keep only the things that children are currently working with available on the shelf. You can try the same at home. If you keep only the toys and materials your child actually plays with available, and you pack away all the rest to rotate out later, it will give new life to things you've put away and will make it easier for your child to see what's there to play with. This is a good combatant to children's boredom, drastic reduction of materials.

Order, as you know, is very important for young children. If materials are sorted logically in containers that make it easy for access and for putting away, it is more likely your child will be ok with putting things away on their own. If you have not done so yet (show them first in a slow and deliberate lesson) how to put something away before taking the next thing out and then gentle reminders for a day or two will help. We group things that have to do with each other in areas in the classroom. Grouping things according to function within your child's materials will help them also keep them in order and know what is available (for example, all books in one area of the shelf, all arts and crafts materials together in a separate place, building toys in an area, doll materials in another, etc)

3. Time and space for concentration

Children need extended blocks of time to play without interruption. We have a 3 hour work period in our day at school just for this. It allows children to slowly “warm up” their concentration engines and switch between various activities throughout the morning and then before lunch, it's like they're ready to stop working and ready to eat and rest for a while.

4. Repetition

Children of this age group learn by repeating. Please consider this a very typical part of their learning process and when possible don't interrupt it. They will button and unbutton a shirt over and over (that's work for your child), or ask you to read the same book over and over (they will grow out of it eventually I promise), draw the same things over and over, or listen to the same song over and over, or repeat a cycle of play with a material over and over. Repetition is a natural and desired behavior in children at this age, it is the precursor to mastery. To them, the act of doing is more important than the resulting product. Let them repeat and even encourage it when it is something positive.

(photo from here)

Extra Materials you can add to your child's environment to enrich it and add valuable experiences to their day:

Music- Does your child have access to a music player or device so they can choose to listen to music or to play while listening to music throughout the day. Headphones can be great for them to be able to play their own music without disturbing others. An old mp3 player is perfect for you to fill up with music they like so they can listen on their own. If they have instruments to play along with their music, placing them next to the music player can turn listening into an interactive experience.

Arts and Crafts Materials- is there a small table and a corner of the house where they have scissors, glue, color pencils, old magazines, varieties of paper (you don't have to put the whole pack out, but a few sheets every day), recycled materials (like cardboard or paper tubes, boxes), maybe some masking tape so they can make things on their own.

Access to books- is there a small library or shelf or corner in your home where children can quietly look at books on their own.

Academic work folder or shelf- is there a place in the home where you can put options of more traditional “schoolwork” for the children to choose from if they wish during the day? You can add novel things to it each day, a page or two of fun worksheets (color by numbers, connect the dots, coloring pages, drawing instructions) to keep it interesting and your child engaged. Changing it up regularly can make it more exciting for your child.

Dress up corner- if your child is into that and you have materials for it, dress up is an excellent way for them to practice the skills of dressing and undressing independently. Your old shoes, costumes, wigs, perhaps an old dress or an old shirt of dads make great additions for children's fun and learning.

Games area- board games and a game time each evening can be a fantastic things to add to your home routine. It engages everyone in the family and when your child learns how to play the games on their own, if they have siblings, they may choose to do so without you during the day.

I've added a photo examples of a ridiculously neat and beautiful home environment, not for you to aim for this perfection, but just to give you an idea and some inspiration for how organized and with how few things you can help aid independence and concentration at home. Looking at these photos makes me think that Montessori would have been an advocate of Marie Kondo! Few things that are beautiful, in good condition, presented in an organized way is the key.



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