While I may have only scratched the surface of what Montessori means, I have come to understand that it is more than just a type of school or style of education; it’s a framework that guides my parenting, a new lens through which I see my daughter. Montessori is a way of life. And, that includes how I have prepared my home for my daughter.
Today I’d like to invite you into our two-bedroom city apartment. Not to show you the massive Rita Hayworth portrait above my credenza, or the random CraigsList finds I’ve scored over the years, or my 1940s record player. (I do love my vintage record player, though!) Rather, to show you how we’ve made room for children.
Before becoming a mom, I always swore that I would never, ever turn my house upside down to accommodate my kids. Call me selfish, call me vain. But, I guess at the heart of it, I didn’t want to make my child/-ren the center of the home. I feared having garish plastic toys screeching out the ABCs on repeat on my living room floor.
However, I’ve come to understand that accommodating a child in your home is not the same as making her the center of the universe. In Montessori there is a lot of talk about the “prepared environment:” “…Maria Montessori’s concept that the environment can be designed to facilitate maximum independent learning and exploration by the child.”
Today, I’d like to share with you how, through the basic principles of Montessori, D. and I have, little by little, made room for our daughter.
Those principles of the prepared environment are:
-Is each room safe for the child?
-Is each room accessible and welcoming to the child?
-Is each room clean, orderly, and peaceful?
-Is each room aesthetically appealing, beautiful?
-Does each room facilitate the child’s independence and learning?
E. is an equal member of our family, so it seems only right that she has a part in each room of our apartment, an indicator to her that she is welcome everywhere (minus my shoe collection…ha!) and a reminder to D. and I that we live with a little person with different needs than our own.
So, bienvenidos a nuestra casa.
Entry way –
(E.’s coat hooks)
We are a shoe-free home, so to help E. remember to put on and take off her shoes when coming and going, I placed a child-sized chair next to our adult-sized bench. This is a special chair: my maternal grandfather was a carpenter and he crafted it for my younger sister many years ago. Additionally, I installed these hooks from IKEA at a height accessible to E. She can easily hang up her jackets and scarves.
E. shares our hall bathroom with her papá since it’s the easiest to access from her bedroom. We purchased this two-step stool from IKEA so that she can access the sink. I also purchased these metal canisters to hold her self-care kit (toothbrush, toothpaste, brush, and comb) since there is no vanity by the sink. Her favorite bathroom activity is brushing her teeth with D.: a ritual always begun by me singing the teeth-brushing song by the Spanish podcast, Baby Radio.
I also recently purchased a training potty for her, which sits in front of D.’s toilet. What potty training method have we chosen to follow, you might be wondering? After a lot of reading, thinking, and needless worrying (“I’ve never done this before! Yikes!!”), I was reminded of the words of María Montessori herself: “follow the child.” So, to answer the question, besides the toilet and a few potty books, our method is to follow no method and just wait. Wait until E. tells us she wants to use the potty. So far, that has not happened, and I am just fine with that. The only other “thing” D. and I “do” is speak openly and plainly about our bodies (i.e., name the body parts) and how we use them (i.e., “Now I am going to use the bathroom.”).
Living room –
(The bottom two rows are for E.’s toys and activities.)
(E.’s reading corner with my mother’s childhood rocker and a child-sized open shelf with books and trays of activities)
(E. playing with her Russian stacking dolls on her new work mat)
Our entryway opens directly to the living area, which comprises the living room and dining room. Although E. has several toys and books in her bedroom, she prefers to spend time out here with us. Since space is limited in our apartment, we’ve had to get creative with where and how to arrange her toys and other work activities. So, I converted part of our living room bookshelf into her work area. Each of the five open spaces on the bottom two shelves holds a different toy, and I regularly rotate them based on E.’s interests at the time (the remaining toys are stored in a closet).
To help her learn to focus on one activity at a time, I purchased a small rug at Target, which we keep rolled up next to the bookshelf. D. and I are slowly modeling for her how to take it out and unroll it before selecting a work tray. I love the Montessori rationale behind the use of a work mat: it helps children concentrate while playing or working, and it conveys the message that, while play is always child-led in a Montessori environment, there is freedom within limits and an individual’s space is to be respected. At 21 months, E. is just beginning to understand these ideas, so it requires patience, empathy, and gentle correction on our part as her parents.
(E.’s homemade learning tower)
(E.’s kitchen cabinet: storage for her utensils, plates, glasses, & cooking tools)
(E. helping papá make dinner (before he made the learning tower))
Besides the hours she spends asleep in her bedroom, the kitchen is where E. spends most of her time when we’re at home. D. and I love to cook (and, eat!) and bake and E. loves – and, I mean LOVES – to watch and help us. In fact, she would rather climb up into her learning tower that D. made her (IKEA hack!) to help us make dinner than play with all of her toys combined. This is why I purchased her child-sized (but, real!) kitchen tools so that she can actively participate in the meal-making process. Instead of a toy kitchen and fake food, D. and I decided to invest the money in real tools that E. can use; this way she feels like she’s truly helping us in a practical way. You can read more about this Montessori concept here.
Eating area –
(E. at her weaning table; here using it with mamá to draw)
(Dinner area at the kitchen bar)
About six or seven months ago, we purchased a child-sized table and chairs to use as E.’s weaning table. Here she eats breakfast, lunch, and an afternoon snack. (It also doubles as her work and art table; see photo above). Over the past several months, she has gotten daily practice setting and cleaning the table (I’ll be honest, there are days she’s more willing to help than others; we just go with the flow, no pressure). I hung photos of family members above so that we could talk about the important people in our life while she eats. Next to the table is a stool where D. or I can sit while she eats; this serves two purposes: we share a meal together so she doesn’t feel alone, and we’re able to watch for signs that she is done eating (i.e. throwing food), which tell us when it’s time to help her clean up.
Dinnertime is different. Starting around the time when E.’s intake of breast milk decreased and solid food increased (about nine months ago), D. and I began our now sacred routine of eating dinner with E. Since we’ve always eaten at our kitchen’s spacious bar, instead of the dining room table, which we save for guests, we wanted a high chair that would grow with E. and facilitate her independence. After a lot of research, we purchased the Keekaroo and love it. Its price tag reflects both its quality and durability (it will last until E. is about five or six years old).
E.’s bedroom –
(Low shelf for toys: each cubby holds one toy at a time; artwork hung at E.’s eye level)
(Hooks with hangers and boxes below for storing and organizing E.’s clothes)
Although this room has always been “E.’s room,” it was actually the last of the rooms of our home to be truly converted into a child-accessible and usable space. (Fault of my own, I now realize.)
The first order of business was to sell our changing table, even though E. still wears diapers. We now change her on the floor, which means she no longer feels trapped on the tall table. She can freely lie down and get up to begin and end the diaper-changing routine. This simple change has radically changed the experience for both E. and us parents; E. is now an active participant in the process.
Second, I lowered the white vintage hooks so that E. could hang up her dresses and jackets. Below are three containers, each with a limited choice of either pajamas, bottoms, or shirts. (We try) each morning to offer her a choice of clothes, and by laying out the clothes at her level, she has free access to choose an outfit, or spend time with her favorite game of toss the clothes around the room!
With the changing table gone, the room immediately felt bigger, cleaner, and more child-friendly. So, with the extra space, we installed this open shelf unit from IKEA, which now holds her toys, one in each cubby. Like the toys in the living room, these toys in the bedroom get rotated occasionally. I also lowered the 1930s fairy tale prints so that she could have some pretty artwork at her level.
Lastly, books! Books, books, books! We are a book-loving family, and reading is one of the best ways to promote our daughter’s language development in our family language, Spanish. So, we created a special reading corner to lovingly display her books. I purchased and painted these spice racks from IKEA (probably the easiest IKEA hack!) to hold her books, which we also rotate. This is, by far, E.’s favorite part of her bedroom. We spend lots of time here throughout the day.
Thanks so much for visiting nuestra casa. There are still changes I’d like to make, particularly if we have more children. But, for now, our home has come a long way from being adult-only to child-inclusive.
If you’re a parent, how have you reimagined your home so that it accommodates your children and facilitates their independence? I’d love to hear from you!