As I’ve mentioned previously, I’ve been wanting to incorporate a few elements of the Montessori method in our home life. Stella is way too young for any formal schooling (I plan to enroll her when she is at least 3 years old or older if possible) and I’m definitely no Montessori purist as you can probably glean from the shelf, but there are a few Montessori concepts that make a lot of sense to me which I think Stella could benefit from.
One of the concepts that appealed to me was the concept of the Prepared Environment.
The first aim of the prepared environment is, as far as it is possible, to render the growing child independent of the adult. – Maria Montessori The Secret of Childhood, 1966.
The Prepared Environment should encourage, facilitate, and maximize independent learning and exploration. This means, among other things, child sized furniture and a space big enough for her to explore on her own. I like this concept because it made perfect sense to me. We were drowning in clutter and I was convinced that if it stressed me out, it couldn’t be good for Stella either.
I started by having custom made furniture done. I figured this was less expensive and leas time consuming than ordering furniture that would fit our room measurements. Nothing grand, just a two level open shelf with no separate compartments for her Montessori shelf and a book shelf that allowed for front facing books that Stella could easily access.
I love that preparing the environment has forced me to minimize our clutter and this forced me to carefully curate which toys I can include and which materials I can leave out. I don’t think Maria Montessori meant to be minimalist, but I do think it’s a lovely offshoot of her method.
Ultimately, I love this idea because I saw first hand the effects of having materials and books accessible to kids. Stella started being able to focus on her toys and materials instead of bulldozing through a dozen or more toys at a time. She also started reading more when we made her her own bookshelf, in contrast to when she had books that she couldn’t reach.
Some notes on the items in the shelf:
1. The biggest “hits” in that shelf are Stella’s pots and pans, her shapes puzzle, her toy vehicles (just a collection of vehicles sourced from Toy Kingdom to aid in her pretend play and to help build her vocabulary), her toy animals, and the Matrioshka nesting doll. I especially recommend getting toy animals (ours is from National Bookstore, the Animal Planet brand, which are quite expensive but totally worth it because the toys are realistic looking and not at all flimsy) and if you know where to get your hands on a nesting doll, by all means, get one. My parents bought her that doll during their trip to Russia! I love them and I will definitely keep them in case we have another kid.
2. To purge: the toy house, which I kept despite it being electronic because Stella enjoyed the songs and I figured pushing those buttons and opening and closing the windows and doors and whatnot still was good practice for her fine motor skills. The eggs need to go too because while Stella enjoys opening them or tossing them around, it’s just too damn messy and I’m nearly going out of my mind trying to help Stella clean it up. The wooden magnetic tiles have to go too because Stella, as I’ve found, is really not yet into building things as much as she is trying to knock things down or throw them around.
Anyhow, like any Montessori newbie, I became rather obsessed with perfecting Stella’s shelf. I blame it on the rabbit hole that is Pinterest. And those Montessori blogs with perfectly curated shelves and bright eyed, adorable kids who dutifully do Montessori work with utmost concentration.
Alas, the real world is not like that. Obsessing over having the “must have” Montessori materials, I would learn later on, is truly one of the pitfalls of those beginning Montessori. You obsess over the “, spend loads in the process, only to have your darling daughter spend barely a minute on it before tossing it away like yesterday’s dried fish.)
I’ve learned it’s truly best to go slow when it comes to a Montessori shelf, or Montessori in general.