Montessori Moods: The "Prepared Environment"

My kids eating lunch at their table. The “prepared environment” is what Maria Montessori called the learning space in her children’s houses (preschools). It was designed to allow the children to respond to their desire to learn and “work”. It included child-sized furniture for working and eating, as well as the specially designed Montessori materials. Everything was designed to allow the children to do things for themselves. It was also designed to be beautiful, orderly and inviting.

Get down at your child’s level in your home and see what it looks like. Can your child wash his own hands? Get his own snack? Get out crayons and a coloring book for himself?

You don’t have to make everything accessible to your child at once, but you can take steps to allow your child to do things for himself. In the original Montessori classrooms, the children served lunch to one another. The older children (5-6 year olds) would carry tureens full of soup to the table and serve the younger children. Other children would carry pitchers of water to refill glasses. Montessori discovered that young children WANT to do things for themselves and can do them if carefully shown and provided the right environment.

You can easily take steps in your home to make it more accessible to your young children and even toddlers. One of the easiest things to do is to have a child-sized table and chairs. My children are truly delighted to be able to eat at their table, color, do puzzles and other activities.  Step stools help a lot. We have one at the bathroom sink and just recently got one for the kitchen sink. The stool allows our children to wash their own hands, brush their teeth, and sometimes they get to play in the sink! Having a cabinet in the kitchen with child-sized kitchen tools is also a great idea. You can put snacks in there and on a low shelf in the refrigerator so they can help themselves.

You can make these types of modifications all over your house to allow your child to do things for himself!

Today’s Activity: Hand Washing

When presenting an activity to your child, practice beforehand and notice all the tiny motions that go into the activity. You will primarily be showing your child what to do, not telling him. Use as few words as possible.

Stand at the sink with your child on a stool next to you so that he can see you. (This is where the prepared environment is important—he can’t see what you’re doing if he doesn’t have a stool!) Show him the whole process of hand-washing being unusually slow and exaggerating all the motions. When you’re finished, ask your child if he would like to wash his hands. If he says no, say okay and move on to something else. If he says yes, show him how to move his stool into place and allow him to wash his hands. Try not to correct him if he doesn’t do something “right” (unless he’s really doing something unacceptable). If it seems like he’s missing some crucial step, plan to present it to him again some other time.

You can also check out this link for official Montessori hand-washing presentation instructions.  In  my opinion, this is more involved than is necessary for me and my kids, but I just want to expose you to the different possibilities.