Over the last few months, many of us have transitioned to working and learning from home. This has provided us the challenge and opportunity to evaluate the space we have to work with. Many of us have rearranged furniture, created makeshift work areas, and figured out in a pinch how to make it all work. Whether or not our homeschooling continues, setting up a prepared learning environment in your home can be beneficial to you and your child.
Beauty, simplicity, and order are guideposts for the Montessori classroom. It is a welcoming space, filled with natural light, plants, living creatures and purposeful materials. It is an environment rich with realia and treasures found in nature, so children can learn through inquiry and hands-on experience. Everything in the classroom is perfectly sized for children, therefore they can work independently, moving through the classroom with purpose and grace. In this space, there is a deep respect for the child’s process of learning – giving support when needed, but also allowing the child to construct his own learning through experience and repetition. Through daily routines in this prepared environment, children learn what is expected of them, how to complete tasks independently, and how to find joy in their learning.
To start, find a space where your child can comfortably work. This could be at their own desk or at the kitchen table. Ideally, the child sits in a chair that is proportionate to their size and their feet can touch the floor. Think about what you find most comfortable about your work space and try to recreate this for your child. One option is using a “floor table”, or a low table so your child can sit on the floor while working. Ensure ample lighting with a lamp or plenty of natural sunlight. If your child has their own desk, show them how to decorate simply with a few photos, a special rock, or a piece of art they created.
Next, the area where your child works should remain free of clutter. Look at your own work space. How well do you keep it organized? Show your child examples of your own organization. This is a skill we need to intentionally teach our children; check in with your child regularly about the challenges of keeping their workspace tidy.
Then, talk with your child about what supplies they need – pencils, pencil sharpener, markers, scissors, stapler, and tape. You’ll want to store these supplies in a central location, at child height, so your child can access these easily. You and your child should get into the habit of returning these supplies after each use. If materials are always put away properly, this could prevent you from hearing “Mom, where’s my…? (insert any number of supplies here).
Lastly, it’s important to help your child love this space, so that he/she enjoys time there. There are three important ways to do this:
- Create a daily routine. Many families find success with daily routines. For younger children, you might take pictures of your child doing their daily tasks and post them on the wall. For an older child, a posted written list should work. As a family, you should collaborate on what to include on this to-do list – school work, daily chores, play time, snacks. Ideally, your child will have opportunities to choose which tasks they would like to do and when. This empowers your child to make choices for themselves, and there’s a greater likelihood that they will complete the chosen task.
- Cultivate independence and a sense of personal space. Once your child engages in an activity, try not to interrupt them. Rather, observe your child. Observe how they are playing with the materials or how long the activity holds their attention. Are they handling the materials carefully and purposefully? Learn from your child – what are they interested in and how can you support these interests? Celebrate their independence. Share your joy and interest in their learning.
- Establish some expectations during work time with your family. Turn off the television or radio. Set aside time for everyone to work quietly. Let your child know how and when you can, or shouldn’t be, interrupted. Give them a strategy for how to ask for help or what to do if you are unavailable. Ensure your child is familiar with their schedule and what is expected of them, so they can complete their work and also have time for play.
With your child, revisit the effectiveness of your workspaces often and reevaluate your daily routines. Make adjustments with the things that are not working. Celebrate the things that are! Set the example for how to balance work and play. Follow your daily routines but keep your heart and your eyes open for unexpected moments of joy with your child. Parting words from Maria Montessori: “Do not tell them how to do it. Show them how to do it and do not say a word. If you tell them, they will watch your lips move. If you show them, they will want to do it themselves.”