Beauty. Order. Concentration. Harmony. Nature. Child-centered learning. At home.
Beginning with Cristina’s wonderful blog on the integration of Montessori philosophy in the home, followed by our family’s recent visit to a local bilingual Montessori school, and ending with my reading the highly-recommended Simplicity Parenting (book review forthcoming), I decided to rethink and redecorate nuestra casa to better accommodate E. and to her facilitate her play and learning. I found that both personally and professionally (from the perspective of a former teacher), I resonate with the Montessori philosophy.
“Montessori education is an educational approach developed by Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori and characterized by an emphasis on independence, freedom within limits, and respect for a child’s natural psychological, physical, and social development….” Some of the defining characteristics of a Montessori classroom include “student choice of activity from within a prescribed range of options; a constructivist or “discovery” model, where students learn concepts from working with materials, rather than by direct instruction; and, freedom of movement within [a mixed age] classroom” (Source).
The Montessori method also calls for a “prepared environment,” or a carefully-tailored learning environment – in my case, the home – that is specifically tailored to a child’s age, personality, and learning style, and which helps the child develop increasing independence. What does this “prepared environment” look like? It should exhibit:
- “An arrangement that facilitates movement and activity
- Beauty and harmony, cleanliness of environment
- Construction in proportion to the child and his/her needs
- Limitation of materials, so that only material that supports the child’s development is included
- Nature in the classroom and outside of the classroom” (Source)
So, what has this meant for nuestra casa? Here are a few “before” and “after” thoughts:
Although having too many toys was never our problem, order and presentation were. To keep the common living space looking “toy-free,” we would shove all of E.’s toys into pull-out baskets in the bookshelf. I even came to congratulate myself on how adult and put-together our apartment looked. However, I finally realized that, although E. knew how to open the drawers, she never bothered. Why?
My theory is because each one held a mess of toys, random toy parts, and other “not-toys-but-she-can-use-them-as-toys.” How ugly to her eyes and overwhelming to her little developing mind! If I as a teacher had to clean up my classroom at the end of each day before I could grade papers or plan a lesson, the same would apply to E.
Now, we keep five to seven toys out on display – each with its own space – on low bookshelves and coffee tables for E. to easily access. Having only one toy in one place also allows her to concentrate on one at a time, another Montessori principle. And, not only is the arrangement visually appealing and orderly, but having only one toy in one spot helps E. learn to return each toy to its place when she’s done (we’re working on this together!).
Besides the toys shoved into baskets, E. didn’t have her own space or corner in the living room. Even her high chair at the bar is out of her reach! So, I got to thinking: how could I create a beautiful and mini-sized space just for her?
I purchased a kid-sized table and chair at IKEA. Made of wood and painted black, it fits perfectly into our common dining area. We are now teaching her how to pull out the chair and sit on it (a new skill for her). I also purchased a wooden stand that holds a roll of blank paper; next to it sits a woven basket of crayons, which she loves to chew on. Little by little, she is working on her fine-motor skills of grasping the crayon and moving it across the paper.
Besides the vintage bar cart and acoustic guitar hanging from the dining room wall, little E. didn’t have anything of hers catching her attention at her eye level. So, when she wasn’t trying to grab a glass from the liquor cart or strum a tune on the guitar, she was emptying the clean dishes out of the dishwasher, opening the tupperware drawer, or scanning the books on the coffee table (i.e., all things at her eye level!). While all three of those are available to E., they weren’t “hers.”
So, to inspire and nurture her creativity, I hung one of my mother’s quilts above the basket of books, which sits next to E.’s desk; and, to remind her of all the people who love her, I hung three photographs of family above her table. I plan to occasionally rotate the photos so that the area remains stimulating and interesting to her.
I confess that I’m the first to shout, “You can never have too many books!” But, the basket of E.’s books in the living room had reached its storage capacity, and then some. Books were overflowing from the basket, causing pages to rip, and ultimately making it difficult to choose one to read at bedtime.
I stored about two-thirds of the books, leaving about seven or so in the basket. The result is a more peaceful (yes, peaceful) and inviting basket. My plan is to rotate the books every week or so, leaving one or two of her favorites, and adding new ones.
These might seem like minor changes, but the results of simplifying and beautifying our home for E.’s sake have been positive: she regularly plays with the toys on display, has become more focused in her play and less inclined to throw her toys in frustration, and is excited to hold the crayons and paper all while “oohing” and “aahing” at the photos on the wall.
Over the coming weeks, we plan to “invite Montessori” to nuestra cocina and la habitación de E. So, stay tuned!
If you’d like to learn more about incorporating the Montessori philosophy into the home, I encourage you to check out the blogs Montessori en Casa (written in both English and Spanish) and Living Montessori Now, as well as How we Montessori.