The following is the text from this section of the 2009-2010 edition of The Joyful Child, Montessori from Birth to Three
To see other sections of this publication return to: http://www.michaelolaf.com/JCcontents.html
BIRTH TO THREE, A SUPERIOR ENVIRONMENT
A Superior Birth to Three Environment
When parents are getting ready for the first child, they will be overwhelmed
by ads on what they "need" for that child. It seems that these
ads are aimed at selling things far more than providing what is really
good for the child. Many items are not only overstimulating for the young
child (too many objects, uncomfortably bright colors) but they hamper
the natural development of important abilities such as language (pacifiers)
and movement (cribs, swings, and high chairs) and even sometimes can be
dangerous (walkers and off-gasses from plastic). The simple, natural,
and gentle environment, that encourages feelings of safety, and encourages
the child to communicate with others and to movethat is the superior
environment for the child from birth to three.
The best time to prepare the environment is before birth. The parents
should crawl around the child's room to see what the child can reach or
will be attracted to. Listen to the sounds: can you hear the wind in the
trees, or are the sounds of nature overwhelmed by the sound of a TV or
radio? The child, unable to filter out the unnecessary or the disturbing
as the adult can, will hear and be affected by every sound and sight.
It is important for the child's sense of order, his security, to keep
the environment the same for the first year. Planning and preparing the
environment ahead of time makes this possible.
A child will develop more fullymentally, emotionally, and physicallywhen
she is free to move and explore an ever-enlarging environment. But in
order to give the child this wonderful freedom, we must explore the home
or daycare environment with a fine-tooth comb. When a child is free to
leave his floor bed and to move about his room, and later the other roomscareful
attention must be paid to covering plugs, taping wires to the wall or
floor, removing poisonous plants and chemicals, and removing any objects
that could harm the child. As the child begins to crawl quickly and to
walk, the adults must continue to childproof the house.
A 2-foot high gate which can be stepped over by the adult, creates safe
and interesting spaces for the child through the house. At first the gate
can be kept at the door of the child's room. Later, when the child is
exploring outside his room, it can be used to protect the child from unsafe
rooms, the home office, the kitchen, or any other place that is not yet
General Environment Principles
Here are some things to keep in mind when organizing a child's environment.
(1) Participation in Family Life: Even from the very first days invite
the child into the life of the family. In each roomthe bedroom,
kitchen, dining room, living room, front hall, and so forth have a mobile
for the infant, or a basket or shelves for the young child, to store the
few carefully chosen belongings, and a special mat or rug for him to "work"
on developing abilities.
(2) Independence: The child's message to us at any age is "Help me
to do it myself." Supporting this need shows respect for and faith
in the child. Think carefully about family activities in all areas of
the home, and arrange each space to support independence. A twin mattress
for the child's bed; clothing cubby, coat tree, or low clothing rod or
hook wherever the child dresses or undresses (front hall, bathroom, bedroom,
etc.); a stool or bench for removing shoes and boots; inviting shelves
for books, dishes, toys.
(3) Belongings: This brings up a very important point. It is too much
for anyone to care for or enjoy belongings when there are too many out
at one time. In preparing the home environment for a child, have a place
to keep clothing, toys, and books that are not being used. Rotate these
when you see the child tiring of what is out on the shelf, in the book
display, or toy basket. Have just a few pieces of clothing available to
the child to choose what to wear each day, just a few toys that are enjoyed,
and only a few favorite or new books to look at.
(4) Putting Away & The Sense of Order: "Discipline" comes
from the same word as "disciple" and our children become disciplined
only by imitating us; just as we teach manners such as saying "thank
you" by modeling this for our children instead of reminding, we can
teach them to put away their books and toys only by gracefully and cheerfully
doing it over and over in their presence.
People are always amazed at how neat and beautiful a good Montessori class
appears. This is not because the teacher is imposing her own order on
the child, but because she is satisfying the strong sense of order of
Furniture does not have to be expensive; it can be as simple, or as elegant,
as any other furniture in the home. The important thing is that it is
of a size and quality to be of use to the child. Solid wood tables and
stools, which allow the child to sit up straight with the feet flat on
the floor for drawing, playing, fixing and eating snacks during the day,
are very important. Not only will good posture be developed, but she will
be better able to concentrate and focus in a correct seated position.
The Environment & The Absorbent Mind
During the first three years the child will absorb, like a sponge, whatever
is in the environment, ugliness or beauty, coarse behavior or gentleness,
good or bad language. As parents we are the first models of what it means
to be human. If our children are in a childcare setting or an infant community
we must exact the same high standards.
Quality and beauty of the environment and the books and materials is very
important in attracting, satisfying, and keeping the attention of the
child. If the child is exposed to beautiful mobiles, posters, rattles
and toys, made of wood and other natural products, as an adult she will
help create a world with the same high standards.
Toys, rattles, puzzles, tables, and chairsmade of wooddevelop
an appreciation for nature and quality and protect the child from unsafe
chemicals that are found in many synthetic materials.
Pictures on the wall, hung at the eye-level of the child, can be beautiful,
framed art prints, or simple posters. All of us have been influenced by
our first environment, and nothing helps create beauty in the world as
much as giving beauty to the very young.
Rather than tossing toys into large toy boxes, it is more satisfying to
the child to keep them neatly on shelves, hung on hooks, kept ready to
work with on wooden trays or small baskets. This also makes putting away
much more logical and enjoyable.
The Chinese art of placement, Feng Shui, teaches that clutter, even hidden
under a bed or piled on the top of bookcases, can cause stress.
The Outside Environment
Sometimes we forget that daily life was first carried out in the outdoors,
people coming into their homes for shelter from the elements. This is
still the instinct of the child. In the first days of life, just a breath
of fresh air and a look at the tree branches moving in the wind each day
is sufficient; soon a daily walk in the baby carrier or stroller; and
before you know it, walks led by the child, where each new thingcracks
in the sidewalk, parades of ants, puddles, brick walls, weeds and thistlesmany
details which we as adults previously overlooked, will enchant the child
and make a short walk into a long drawn out discovery. Sometimes a "walk
to the park" can take an hour, and one may not even get past the
One day a new teacher told Dr. Montessori that there was just nothing
worth exploring in the outside environment of their city school. So Dr.
Montessori led the children outside to the front of the building. An hour
later they hadn't gone any further than a small weed patch a few feet
away. It was full of tiny details of life and absolutely fascinating to
When we say to give the world to the child, this does not mean the inside
of buildings, but weed patches, glorious sunrises and sunsets, the strong
cleansing winds of fall, the sounds of birds in the trees, the stars and
clouds, the infinite variety of leaves and flowers, the beautiful world
It is very good for us adults to slow down, forget our plan, and follow
the child as he discovers, smells, sees, hears, and touches the outside
Welcome the child to your outside workwashing the car, working in
the garden, whatever you can do outside instead of insidethere is
always some little part of the real work that a child can do.
Try to create an outside area where the child can not only do outside
activities such as playing in a sandbox, but activities he would be doing
inside, such as washing his hands or the dishes, looking at books, doing
It is often the case in this country that "intellectual" activities
are done inside, and "large muscle" activities done outside.
So the only thing one finds outside is playground equipment. This separates
the work of the mind and the body and splits the naturally integrated
life of the young child. The most important work is done with the mind
and body working together to create.
It is ideal, but not always possible, to create a free-flow inside-outside
for the child. An alternative is a protected porch or other safe outside
space, no matter how small, which he can be in at will. Of course this
must be open only when the adult can be available to see what the young
child is doing.
Learning how to prepare the environment before birth frees parents to
devote time to be with and enjoy their child after birth.
A beautiful, organized, and uncluttered environment can help in many ways:
dressing and undressing is simplified; the favorite book and toy is always
within reach; the child can participate in the life of the family and
feel needed; challenging work that focuses the child's attention and fulfills
her needs is always available; a more fun, creative, and peaceful life
comes into being for the whole family.
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© Susan Mayclin Stephenson, 2010 (www.susanart.net)
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