One of the fundamental principles behind Dr. Maria Montessori’s educational theory is that the child needs to learn in a "prepared environment." Order, simplicity, beauty and accessibility are fundamental to a prepared environment. Montessori classrooms are calm, organized, open spaces where children of various ages work independently and at their own pace. Even if your child doesn't attend a Montessori school, you can still apply some of the Montessori principles to your home life. Start by making your children’s play space a “prepared environment.”
Here are three easy ways to get started:
Display toys and books on open shelves where little ones can easily access them AND put them away by themselves. Use low, wooden bookshelves to set up your storage system. Store toys with multiple components or smaller pieces in open baskets so your child can easily see the materials. Be sure that every toy on the shelf has its own place so little ones learn where the items belong and where to find them the next time they are looking for them.
Use child-sized items to create a child-friendly environment. Invest in a child-size table and chairs (IKEA has some cute and inexpensive sets). My kids use their table for a number of activities including reading, eating snack, playing games, shaping play dough, and painting. Add a child-size version of your every day household tools to encourage little ones to work side-by-side with you. Specifically, child-sized brooms and mops make children better able to assist in cleaning up messes. To encourage them to help keep the house tidy, hang a few low hooks so they can hang up their own coats and art smocks.
Make the play space aesthetically pleasing. Consider adding a few plants to your children’s play area. Let your little ones help water and care for the plants. In fall, collect a basket of leaves and pine cones to decorate their play table or snip a few flowers and put them in a little vase. Set out a little tablecloth and napkins for the table when they are having snack. To encourage calm playing, use classical or other soft music to set the tone.
Simple changes can transform your play room from a chaotic mess to a more serene space for playing and learning. For additional information on Montessori education and creating a prepared environment, visit Association Montessori Internationale, The International Montessori Index, or check out Teaching Montessori in the Home: The Preschool Years by Elizabeth G. Hainstock.