Think about how you feel when your home is a mess — unmade beds, toys strewn everywhere, dust on the ﬂoors, grimy dishes in the sink. Compare that to when your home is clean and tidy, with everything in its place. Does one scenario create stressful feelings, while the other makes you calm and settled? Even if we don’t consciously realize it, our environment affects us.
Children are no exception and are more sensitive to what’s around them than adults.
We Montessorians take this to heart and believe that the student, the teacher, and the environment work together to form a “learning triangle.” We believe that when an environment is set up appropriately, it can help a child develop independence, coordination, concentration and an internal sense of order, as well as support well-being and social and academic achievement.
Montessori teachers take great care in the preparation of their classroom environments, guided, in large part, by the idea of simplicity. Everything in the classroom has a purpose and a place where it rests when it is not in use. There is an intuitive sense of order that makes it easy for children to navigate the space and to clean up after themselves successfully. At home, a simple environment can support your child’s concentration, curiosity and sense of calm.
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Here are a few guidelines.
Less is more
Children have a chance to enjoy what they have when there is less of it around. When you tuck away half of the toys (in a closet, garage, or other storage space), you may ﬁnd children become more interested in what is on the shelves. This leads to longer periods of concentration, easier cleanup, greater independence, and less tension among family members about messy spaces. Think about quality rather than quantity.
Practice letting go
Paring down may be easier than you think. Regularly throw away toys that break and donate gently used ones that your child has outgrown. If you do this with your own belongings in your child’s presence, you can model non-attachment. Practice this on a regular basis with your child; you may ﬁnd that letting go becomes normal behavior.
What to do with the half of your children’s possessions you’ve tucked away? Create a toy-rotation system. Every few weeks, replace the toys that are available with ones in storage. This creates a new interest in toys that your child may have had for years. Follow your child’s cues to know when it is time to switch. When you notice your child losing interest in the “new” toys, it’s time to rotate. Once you get into a routine, your child will likely let you know when she wants to rotate for some fresh items. Your child will also let you know if a certain toy needs to be available all the time.
Choose toys mindfully
Choose toys that engage rather than entertain. If we want our children to develop an ability to concentrate, we need to surround them with things that encourage concentration.
In general, anything with batteries or a screen grabs your child’s passive attention. He can play with these things all day and still not develop one iota of concentration. Even toys with batteries that claim to be educational will do far less for your child’s academic success than some good old-fashioned analog toys and activities. Seek out toys, games, and activities that are open-ended and invite curiosity, creativity, voluntary attention, and problem solving. Blocks, puzzles, water works, pegboards, books, puppets, and natural objects that can be counted and sorted are a few options.
Focus on beauty and order
Think about how lovely it is when you enter a place that is simple, orderly and beautiful. Something in you relaxes.
Adults seek out these kinds of places to help them access a creative ﬂow and spiritual insights, or to rest and rejuvenate. Bring a little of that wonderful energy into your home by displaying toys and activities in a way that entices and has a clear sense of order. Your children will respond to this simple beauty, just as they do in their classrooms.
Olynda Smith is a Montessori early-childhood teacher. This article was excerpted from an article published in Montessori Life magazine, Spring 2018. ©2018 American Montessori Society. Used with permission. All rights reserved. www.amshq.org