This month I am taking part in a project on Instagram all about the concept of “The Prepared Adult”, and I thought I would share some thoughts here too. If we’re not already connected on Instagram, come along and say hi!
Last week (I’m a little behind again – oops!) the participants in “The Prepared Adult” were writing about the prepared environment, a key aspect of the Montessori’s method and something which is really important to me as a parent.
The “prepared environment” is a Montessori concept. Broadly speaking, it refers to an environment which has been designed with the child in mind with the goal of giving them as much independence as possible and allowing them to learn independently. This is one of the key ideas for both Montessori teachers and for parents who are inspired by Montessori ideas in the home, and I think it’s a concept that every parent – whether they identify with Montessori or not – can be inspired by!
In the Montessori method, the six principles of the prepared environment are freedom, structure and order, beauty, nature and reality, social environment, and intellectual environment.
So what does this look like in practice?
The prepared environment will look different in each home, reflecting the family’s individual needs, culture, resources, and style and the child(ren)’s sensitive periods.
However, prepared environments usually have some things in common:
- They are calm and orderly – at least some of the time! Young children don’t always make this their priority.
- They are set up to help children succeed in doing things independently (think pegs, stools, accessible furniture). This is both practically helpful and a sign of respect; the environment aims to meet the child’s needs.
- They understand that when it comes to toys and materials, less is more; keeping a space simple helps reduce overwhelm and visual clutter. The prepared environment is as much about what isn’t included as what is! Toy rotation can really help with this.
- They make space for beauty, be it through flowers, art, nature, music, or cultural objects.
One of the fundamental aspects of the prepared environment is that it supports the child to be independent through thoughtful planning and design. This is something that you can do at home, and you may be surprised by the huge difference it makes, adding more ease into your daily life as your children begin to do things by themselves more frequently.
By carefully preparing your home environment, you also create a “yes space” – a space where your children are free to touch, explore, move, climb, and look after their own needs. Creating “yes spaces” in your home allows everyone to feel more relaxed; you feel more at ease knowing they are unlikely to do serious damage to anything – including themselves – and your children feel less frustrated because they are not constantly being told “no”.
What your space looks like will of course depend on your home and your family, as well as your tolerance of risk and the amount of time you have available to supervise your young children (eg. it might work not to have a stair gate with one child, but with three young children you may decide it’s easier to have one!)
In creating a prepared environment at home, Montessori-inspired parents aim to create a space which is functional and practical without compromising on beauty. This is because Montessori believed that children soaked up their environments – it thus follows that we would want to create a tranquil, inviting, and beautiful space for them to spend time in. Think about your dream work environment. Your child’s is probably not very different!
There is often a perceived need for children’s spaces to be brightly coloured and packed with toys. But these spaces can instead be overwhelming and overstimulating. Something which unites Montessori spaces – homes and schools alike – is that they are typically aesthetically pleasing, with neutral colours, natural materials, an open and uncluttered feel, natural light, and plants, flowers, or art decorating the space.
A prepared environment isn’t a static thing which you consider once every five years. As your child changes, your home environment will shift and change too. Those who have been reading this blog for a while will have seen our home go through many, many iterations since Frida was a baby!
Having a prepared environment is closely linked to observation. When we make the time to observe the child and truly see how they are interacting with their environment, we can make changes accordingly – sometimes this means leaving things as they are for six months, sometimes this means making changes a fortnight apart.
It’s hard to overstate the benefits that having a carefully curated and considered environment has brought to our family. It’s not perfect by a long shot, but I’m sure that our days are so much smoother because of it.