The Prepared Environment

Homeschooling often involves keeping multiple aged children constructively occupied. Most of us don't have several children of the same age which we can teach all at once. We must integrate our different aged children into the same learning environment. In our home we do have circle time where all of our children are gathered for learning, with some of the material going right over the heads of the littlest ones, and some of it, such as singing the ABC song, boring to tears the older ones. The ideal then is to have an environment which is conducive to many independent learners of different ages. Why independent? Well, obviously, so that I can drink my coffee in peace (this is a joke)!

Really, the goal is to develop independent learners because when children are directing some aspects of their education, they are going to be more motivated about what they are learning. 

This brings us to the subject of The Prepared Environment. A prepared environment is a Montessori term that means a classroom that is carefully organized for optimum learning. In a homeschool environment, it is completely possible to have a beautiful environment for learning, one which makes independent learning a natural occurrence.

In the above linked article, the author explains that there are several  principles for a prepared environment. This is my adaptation of how these work in a homeschool.

1. Structure and Order- Young children are carefully taught how to do things. How to make their bed, get dressed, brush their teeth and wash their hands are all part of the basic lessons. Children, from a young age are allowed to get their own snack and drinks but they are taught how to do it and how to clean up after themselves as well. A minimum amount of clothes are kept in drawers low enough for children to reach, and toys are also kept to a minimum so that a child can easily pick up after herself. Tools are preferred over toys, tools such as; a small broom and dustpan, child sized table and chairs and even clothes washing supplies such as washboards and clotheslines.

2. Freedom- Within the framework of order, there is great freedom. A child may choose to color first or to do a pouring exercise. They may choose to wash some dishes or sew a button on a cloth. They may choose to diagram a sentence or do a counting exercise. However, a child is not allowed the freedom to stay in their pajamas all day watching cartoons. So, although freedom is highly prized in a Montessori environment, and can be a great motivator for young children, it is not freedom from all restraints, it is more simply, the freedom to choose activities which are available within the prepared structure.

3. Beauty- A Montessori environment should be beautiful, but so should be your home. Beauty doesn't have to require a lot of money. It can involve simple things such as getting rid of broken toys, and excess furniture. It can involve putting fresh paint on a tired and chipped wall, or finding a thrifted basket to keep blankets and toys in, instead of strewing them across the floor. Life with children involves lots of messes, but putting in the effort to keep your home an inspiring place does have a big impact. Also, keeping the T.V. off and instead having a variety of lovely books, and music in addition to Bibles and musical instruments will make a major difference in the atmosphere of your home.

4. Nature and Reality- When children have an opportunity to interact with nature it can be both inspiring and calming for them. This is why it is important to keep your environment as natural as possible. If you have outdoor space, let them have time daily to enjoy it. Keep your indoor space tuned towards creation as well by using natural materials such as wood and glass in your kitchen and workspaces and avoiding plastic toys and tools (we make an exception for a variety of items, such as Legos and toy animals.)

Although, these are some examples of basic things we have done to create an environment which accommodates learning, it is all grace if things go as hoped for. There are mornings where I fail to follow through on good habits and my kitchen ends up a disaster because the children have all freely helped themselves to breakfast (good), using up all the sugar, and smearing jam across the counter in the process(bad)!

Ultimately, the best thing I have done to create a prepared environment, is to prepare my heart by seeking God first. Only He can give me the self discipline needed to follow through on good habits, both for myself and for my children, and only He can give me the power to forgive, both myself and my children when we fail.

However, it is better to put in the effort, and through baby steps move towards a learning environment  that makes it easier for children to learn, than to not even try. It is better to receive forgiveness when you miss the mark, than to shoot for nothing.

1 comment:

  1. Such a great post! I tweeted (and shared a link) to the part about "when children are directing some aspects of their education, they are going to be more motivated about what they are learning." I pinned it too. I love how it's not just the tips, but the reasoning behind why. I think so many could benefit from this.