The Montessori environment at school is so lovely, organized, and practical — it is a painstakingly and thoughtfully-curated space that has been designed to promote independence and concentration, and to maintain order as children move through their work cycles during the day. And of course, each space is designed for particular age groups: the Primary environment supports 2 1/2 — 5 or 6-year-olds; the Lower Elementary classroom is designed to support children from age 6 to around 9 or 10, and so on. A home environment, however, is a place for all ages: from parents and teenagers on down to infants (sometimes all at the same time!). This can make supporting Montessori at home trickier; we cannot leave a 7-year-old’s scissors out for the 1-year-old to grab, or small items that infants can easily ingest or choke on. However, there are many ways to incorporate Montessori into your home environment. Depending on the age range of the children living within your home, you can tailor the environment to be more conducive to organization, self-motivation, independence, and order. As children grow, the home environment adjusts and expands to include more independence.
One major benefit of introducing Montessori at home is that an overlap in the school and home environments can make transitions easier, can reinforce a sense of community and responsibility within the family, and can make life all-around easier for everyone. A young child who can reach his clothing is set up to succeed in getting himself fully dressed each morning, which frees up a parent to support other children or get other tasks completed in the morning.
Below, one Villa di Maria family’s Montessori-inspired home environment. Their children’s ages are 5, 7, and 9 years.
In the Kitchen
For younger children, placing glasses, plates, bowls, and silverware within reach enables them to help themselves to breakfast in the morning, and can encourage them to set the table for dinner. If hand towels are in a low drawer or basket, they can clean up spills more easily, and put away laundry once it’s been folded.
For a child who enjoys watercolors, a small shelving unit meant for use as a spice rack can double as windowsill storage for paint, brushes, cloths, a jar for water, watercolor pencils, and watercolor paper stacked below.
In the Living Area/Community Space
Shelving can support most art supplies, tools, and interesting items. If you are lacking space, these items can be removed and switched out to keep things interesting. Items should not be crowded together, but spaced out so as not to overwhelm. Discuss with your child expectations that, as with school, each item should be returned to its place when he is finished using it. Sorting like-items helps with this. For instance, puzzles can be stacked together, a science shelf can hold science materials, favorite books can be in a basket by the couch for easy access.
In the Bathroom/Washroom
A sink in the home is not like a sink in the Primary Montessori classroom! It may be just the right height for the adults in the family, but much too high for the young child. A step stool is necessary to encourage independent hand-washing and brushing teeth. If you are sharing a bathroom, there are plenty of fold-up versions of step stools that easily collapse when a young child is not using it. A nail brush is within reach for those grimy nails — now getting them to use it is another story!
Binoculars set by a back window encourages bird watching. A guide book, some collected feathers, and other wildlife can go alongside to enhance the experience!
In the Dining Room/Community Space
Child-sized furniture is ideal, if possible. A low work table serves as a place to eat, a place to draw or paint or write stories, even a place to do crafts or flower arranging or prep foods for dinner. If chairs are lightweight and child-sized, they are easy to move around, another way to promote independence. If a dustpan and brush are readily available, a child can clean up messes and crumbs without needing help. Same with aprons!
A great resource for starting Montessori in the home from the very beginning is our very own Montessori Guide, Maria Burr, who runs the Bambini Guide, offering parent-infant classes and home consultations for parents who want to provide a Montessori environment from the start.