Maria Montessori during her work with children, described what she called a “Prepared Environment” which means a space specifically created keeping in mind the developmental needs of a child along with specific principles she developed. 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”.
When children are allowed to grow in an environment (be it at home or at school) where materials are designed to encourage independent movements based on their individual abilities, they grow to be self-reliant, confident and purposeful citizens of the community.
Don’t we all want that in our children? :)
During my AMI 3-6 Montessori Assistant training, I understood that a 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
I have also been an ardent fan of using Marie Kondo's organising and tidying principles in my home as the KonMari (adapted from her name) & Montessori principles compliment each other beautifully. Integrating these 2 principles in creating a Prepared Environment for my children seemed like the perfect thing to do! (at the time of writing this post, I am a KonMari consultant-in-training)
Here's how you can too!
Model and demonstrate caring for your belongings & make it part of your daily routine
Being organised and staying tidy should be a part of our own life (without pretense) if our children must absorb these qualities from their home environment. Start modeling these habits when your children are young (even as young as birth).
Complete small tidying tasks alongside them consistently (this is important as only through the child's spontaneous repetition of a task will she/he be able to acquire that 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 with to inculcate in your child :)
Make 'putting away things' (a.k.a. tidying) part of your daily routine (ours is at the end of the day after dinner so I don't disrupt their play or when they're focusing on a project) and demonstrate kindly when things are not in the right place. In fact, show them you make mistakes too and how to problem solve (we're humans after all!) as these are important social 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 and routines. Organisation will come naturally from being in a home that makes them feel secure and gives them self-confidence as they move about independently in their prepared environment.
a. Choose to keep only those things that give your child the most joy, contentment, and comfort (and only later think of discarding). One this step is complete, you can then decide how to store their belongings. Once of the principles also state to tidy in the right order which begins with your child's clothes (this includes everything your child wears like hats, bags, shoes and other accessories) followed by their books, papers (health booklets, certificates), miscellaneous items (like toys. art/craft raw material, bed linen, bathroom/kitchen items) and lastly sentimental items (art, crafts, letters).
b. Choose a few pieces of each type of clothing/toys/books 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.
c. After choosing what your child loves, designate just one storage spot in your home and store "like" items 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 (all easily accessible independently by your child).
d. Label all their storage boxes! This could be handwritten on homemade paper tied with string, labels made using a label maker or even laminated photos of the contents of the storage tray/box. A Prepared Environment includes "a place for everything and everything in it's place".
e. Fold, hang or arrange items by storing items vertically in a square or rectangular box/drawer. My children love to fold their clothes, and this is the easiest place to start your children on in their tidying journey.
Show gratitude and care
a. Encourage your child to give thanks and how to appreciate their belongings (model saying thank you to the eating accessories before eating a meal, to clothing when putting away in the laundry basket, to shoes when putting away in the shoe shelf etc). When it is time to let go of an item, discuss how to dispose of it responsibly to a charity where another child benefits from it or recycle it. If an item needs repair, demonstrate how to do the same.
b. Provide child-sized cleaning equipment in locations accessible to your child to teach her/him how to 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.
a. Ensure their vital needs are sorted such as hunger, fatigue, or attention before tidying.
b. Involve them in decision-making when keeping and discarding their items.
c. Making tidying fun by making it a game or a challenge before it comes naturally to them.
d. Give yourself grace when things don't go as planned. Your relationship with your child is far more important than messes which are temporary.
Encourage them to make their spaces 'joy-sparking'
Encourage your child to decorate their favourite corner in the home (mutually agreed upon with you and the rest of the family) with their artwork, nature finds or other sentimental items. This could be in their own room or other areas of your home. It could include their favourite books and chair to unwind after a busy day, to find peace or to calm down during an argument.
Aparna is a KonMari home organising consultant-in-training, a National Geographic Certified Educator, and an AMI Montessori Assistant in the 3-6 age group. She was born and raised in Bangalore, India and now lives with her husband and 2 children aged 6 and 8 in Singapore.
"I am passionate about building positive relationships between parents & their children by encouraging them to introspect & be intentional of the relationships with their things. I also love teaching my children the importance of inclusion, mutual respect and living a sustainable lifestyle so we can appreciate, protect, and preserve all that our beautiful planet has to offer to us".
You can find Aparna on Instagram @globalmindfuljourney