Independence – Preparing the Environment to Say “Yes”

Simone Davies, author of the Montessori Toddler and themontessorinotebook.com, sent her monthly Newsletter this past week. Please visit themontessorinotebook.com and see the attached Newsletter at the bottom of this post. The topic was “Looking after toddlers is hard — and what we can do about it.”

In it, she outlines some tips using the Montessori approach that “can help us find more peace and calm in our lives with toddlers.” The excerpt below really stood out:

Set up a ‘yes’ space. In Montessori, we call this the prepared environment.

Have at least one area of your home where your child can explore freely and safely. If you keep saying “no” to them touching some furniture or electronics, is there a way you can set up your home to remove these inviting things?

Also we can set up our homes so our child can be independent. For example, so they can help themselves to a drink, reach the sink to wash their hands, have their plate and cutlery down low to be able to access them independently. We can also have a few well-selected activities at their height so they can choose from these all by themselves.

In our classrooms, both Casa and Toddler, we help foster each child’s independence and curiosity first through the careful set up of each classroom. Every summer, the teachers and assistants come together to determine the best way to lay out shelves, tables, and materials so that the environment is a reminder and an extension of the teachers’ expectations. Materials are placed in baskets so that all that each child needs to complete the activity is contained within. All that we want accessible to the children are at their level; teachers utilize vertical space for paperwork, adult sized scissors, cleaning materials and other miscellaneous items to be kept out of the children’s reach.

Instead of relying on adults or leaving tasks for others to do, child-sized brooms, dustpans, spill buckets, sinks and more are all easily at hand.

Children are first shown how to do things for their own in a precise and careful manner. The children then know not only how to accomplish their work but also where to find the cups for water and milk, how to set up for lunch, how to clean up after themselves and so much more.

Instead of having to say “We walk, we do not run in the classroom,” the teachers create just enough space for a natural physical flow while ensuring there are no straight runways.

The prepared environment extends to our hallways, arrival areas, and stairways. Everything has a place with everything in its place, as the saying goes. This appeals to the child’s need for order.

Children have more than enough space and time to get undressed/dressed; the hooks and baskets are accessible and labelled to promote that same sense of consistency and security.

The teachers often act as guides, providing the children with independence in a safe environment. The toddler teachers guide children up the stairs as they use the lower handrail to help themselves up and down. The toddler teachers set consistent expectations, keep a close eye on the children without impeding their movement, and even sing the same songs to maintain the routines.

There are so many instances during the day when we must say “no” to the children. In Montessori, we often use positive phrases and points to what the children can do. “This is how we walk up the stairs.” “We sit on the chair during lunch.” Having our environments and our expectations say “yes” help foster that peace and calm during the day for us, for the children, and as a result the community as a whole.

Marie Hui is the Vice Principal of Odyssey Montessori School. She began her tenure with Odyssey as the student teacher in Casa 1. Marie then went on to lead Casa 2 as the Directress for several years. With a love of children and a passion for Montessori, Marie strives to connect parents to the Montessori philosophy - hoping to bridge some gaps between home and school.

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