by Carmen Gamper

Help your children feel welcome at home by re-arranging some basic things around the house based on Montessori-principles: Allowing independent activities within healthy emotional boundaries and within a safe inspiring environment.

Intentionally prepared spaces directly influence the kind of activities children are drawn to. Observe your children lovingly, soon you will see that behind the sometimes cute and seemingly illogical activities, true learning processes are occurring.

• Create YES-environments: Take all decorative vases and delicate china from the lower shelves in kitchen and living room, and place them in adult height. The lower shelves work perfectly for toys, books or art supplies. This way you won’t need to worry, if they will break, and your children are granted free access to specific items.

• Prepare shelves or drawers with basic art supplies for your child’s independent use, meaning they don’t need to ask for permission when they would like to start a small art project. Place paper in various sizes and colors, pencils, kid-proof scissors and glue, beautiful pictures for collages, colorful yarn… Use supplies you already own, also “waste material” like toilet paper rolls, egg boxes, and yogurt cups make great art supplies.

• Prepare play and work-spaces where your children can play without interruptions. Create sunny, comfortable, lovely spaces with cushions, so that your children love to spend time there. A carpet can define a play-space on the floor, so that toys and learning material don’t flood the whole living room. To enhance creative work, you could add an extra table for art projects, if you need to have the kitchen table for other uses.

• Most children love role-play and pretend play. By imitating adults and ‘re-playing’ experiences with puppets and the like, children process emotions and situations they experienced. By pretending to fly, dive or eat, their creative and imaginary world is activated, and children explore the concept of symbols, which is the foundation of literacy and numeracy. You can prepare a “dress-up”-space with colorful materials, jewelery and hats. You can help arrange puppets, stuffed animals, dolls and miniature landscapes with cars, trees and figurines.

• Have water and little snacks freely available for your kids without having to ask for it. You could dedicate a lower space in the kitchen or on a side table to a water pitcher and glasses, also to some carrots, apples or strawberries. Please, add a sponge and towel for cleaning up, so spilling is no big deal. Always, show your children patiently what you expect from them, inform them, when needed, on your boundaries.

• Your children might need lots of movement to maintain a healthy body. If you have an outdoor space in your home, take all potentially dangerous items out, e.g. boards with nails, pieces of glass, unstable ladders. Wander through your garden and find out if the tree is suitable for climbing, where little huts or fairy houses could be built, and where your children could start a little gardening space to see the tomatoes grow. If you don’t have an outdoor space at home, explore nature trails and playgrounds in your area. Go for a theme walk, e.g. together find as many different forms of leaves as you can. Then, look them up in an encyclopedia at home or take a trip to your local library.

• For teenagers: Help them find a “real-life” project, like planning the family’s vacation, painting a wall or repairing the fence. In adolescence it is essential to find meaningful ways to contribute to the family, and also to a larger social circle, like volunteering at a community garden or at the library.

Carmen Gamper, consultant for child-centered education.
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