Dr. Maria Montessori, an Italian educator & physician, described a “Prepared Environment” as a space specially created, keeping in mind the developmental needs of a child. She mentions in her book ‘The Secret of Childhood’ that “The first aim of the Prepared Environment is, as far as it is possible, to render the growing child independent of the adult”.
During my AMI Montessori Assistant training, I learnt that a Montessori Prepared Environment has the following qualities:
- It is a harmonious environment filled with beauty where children feel happy, secure, and able to adapt, explore and care for their surroundings independently
- Every item in the Prepared Environment has a place of its own and curated based on the child’s developmental need
- It requires gentle care and constant maintenance (including fixing broken/torn items)
A Montessori ‘home environment’ follows similar principles:
- The spaces are calm, clutter-free and everything has a predictable place
- Items are accessible for the child to support the child’s developmental need for independence & to build our trust with them
- Extra items that are not age-appropriate are stored & rotated away to prevent overwhelm
- Appropriate choices are given to allow the child to explore their environment freely & safely
A prepared home environment thus keeps the child’s growing developmental needs in mind & sets the child up for success in the future.
I have also been an ardent fan of using Marie Kondo’s tidying principles in my home. The KonMari® tidying method teaches one to mindfully tidy up their belongings (based on the 5 KonMari® tidying categories which are Clothes, Books, Papers, Miscellaneous items, and Sentimental items) to understand what to keep that aligns with one’s values & priorities.
After this decision-making is complete, the items are given a “home” based on their category (& not by location of the home) so that one has a clear idea of how many items they own without having to buy unnecessary duplicates as well as clutter from rebounding. This is called a “Tidying Festival” & is a once-in-a-lifetime event. Belongings are given a word of thanks at the end of the day when they are put away in designated locations during the “daily tidying” process.
When I work with families, I always recommend that the adults in the home complete their “tidying festivals” first. Once the adult becomes a confident decision-maker in their own space, assisting their children in their tidying becomes easier.
As the KonMari® (adapted from her name) & Montessori principles complement each other beautifully, integrating these 2 principles in creating a Prepared Home Environment for my children seemed like the perfect thing to do!
So how can you get started at home?
Model and demonstrate caring for your belongings
Model and demonstrate caring for your belongings & make it part of your daily rhythm. Staying organised should become a part of our daily rhythm (without pretense) if we want our children to absorb these qualities from their home environment.
Start modeling these habits when your children are young. Complete small tidying tasks alongside them consistently (through spontaneous repetition of a task, a child will be able to acquire a skill).
As they get older they will eventually learn how to tidy and care for their things on their own, so be patient, have faith in your child’s abilities and stay consistent in your efforts of supporting the habits you wish to inculcate in your child 🙂
Make tidying part of your daily rhythm such as at the end of the day and demonstrate kindly when things are not in the right place. Show them you make mistakes too and how to problem-solve as these are important life skills to learn as well.
Prepare their environment
Children between the ages of 0 to 6 thrive in an environment that fulfills their biological need for order. Organisation will come naturally from being in a home that makes them feel secure.Choose to keep only those things that give your child the most joy, contentment, and comfort (and only later think of discarding). Once this step is complete, you can then decide how to store their belongings. Tidy in the right order with your child’s clothes first (including hats, bags, shoes and other accessories) followed by books, papers (health booklets, certificates), miscellaneous items (like toys, art/craft material, bed linen, bathroom/kitchen items) and lastly sentimental items (art, crafts, letters).
Choose a few pieces of each belonging that brings joy to you and your child, so it encourages your child to choose what they want to use every day (independently) without the overwhelm. Keep the rest away in a closet to rotate out as appropriate.
After choosing what to keep with your child, designate just one location in your home for “like” items to be stored together so that they can be accessed independently by your child. These could be arranged on low shelves, low hanger rods or low coat hooks.
Label all their storage boxes! A Prepared Environment includes “a place for everything and everything in its place.” Fold, hang or arrange items by storing items vertically in a square or rectangular container.
Show gratitude and care
Encourage your child to show gratitude and appreciation for their belongings (for e.g., model saying thank you to the eating accessories & the chef before a meal or to clothing when putting them away in relevant closets). When it is time to let go of an item, discuss how to dispose of it responsibly to a charity where another child would benefit from it or recycle it. If an item needs repair, demonstrate how to do the same.
Provide child-sized cleaning equipment in locations accessible to your child to teach her/him how to clean & maintain their organised environment.
Collaborate and connect (before correction)
Work as a team when doing a “joy-check” on their items and when putting things away. This makes it less stressful for you and your child especially in the beginning stages of your child’s tidying journey.
Ensure their vital needs such as hunger, fatigue, or attention are attended to before tidying. Involve them in decision-making when keeping and discarding their items. Give yourself grace when things don’t go as planned. Your relationship with your child is far more important than temporary messes.
Encourage them to make their spaces ‘joy-sparking’!
Encourage your child to decorate their favourite corner in the home (mutually agreed upon with you) with their artwork or other sentimental items. Include their favourite books and chair in these corners to unwind after a busy day, to find peace or to calm down during an argument.
A home where the child feels safe & will help the child to trust in not only their home environment but also the world. The child starts to interact with the world around her/him with a sense of belonging, positivity & security. When we accept them for their unique selves & abilities, we lay a strong foundation of our respectful & trusting relationship with them.
An orderly environment helps to reduce the build-up of cortisol levels that is detrimental to brain development & thus learning. It also helps to build focus & concentration as the child is offered limiting choices.
When the child is included in activities of daily life by creating “yes” spaces around the home with items that are independently accessible & child-sized, the child learns to trust in their own ability. This builds their self-confidence & self-reliance as they start to move from depending on the adults at home > collaboration > and finally complete independence.