Imagine an environment where everything had a place and everything was in its’ place. Wouldn’t that be amazing and so nice to know that when you went to find something or needed something you knew just where it was and you wouldn’t need to ask for it? Beauty and order in a Montessori environment cannot be overlooked. I want to share with you why beauty and order are critical to a well-functioning Montessori environment, either at home or school.
The Need for Order
Order in a Montessori environment is like the skeleton that holds it all together. Without order, you cannot have independence. Order is what allows a child to know where something is and where it belongs, which in turn supports their independence.
Imagine for just a moment if you never had a designated place to put shoes. If shoes can be put anywhere, then they can be found anywhere. Odds are that the child will not be able to be independent in finding and putting on their shoes if they could be in 10 different spots throughout the home. Now imagine if there is only 1 place shoes go. Right by the door. Maybe with a little basket and a small chair or stool for putting your shoes on. Now, when it is time to get ready to go somewhere, the child will know where their shoes are and be able to complete that task with much more independence.
Having order in an environment allows time for other things. When things have a place and they are in their place we can find things. I remember as a child growing up my father would say, “I’ll pay you $50 if you can find my (fill in the blank).” It seemed like this was a frequent phrase he said to us! I remembered this and thought to myself, I don’t want to spend days of my life looking for lost items. However, sometimes it is inevitable, but most of the time it is totally preventable with proper care and discipline.
How to maintain order – Restoring the Environment
Both during my time in the classroom and at home I have been diligent in this one thing, restoring the environment. Let me break this down a little bit further. Things will get used, strewn about, and chaotic most days but then there is a need to restore those things to order before the next time we use them. This is easy when everything has a place. When the child is at an age that they can help with this (by 2 or 3 years old even!) they will be able to restore their environment. However, if things don’t have a place, how can they put things away? Furthermore, how can they find them again? See how order affects everything?
I would go as far as to say, order is one of the first things you need to cultivate if you want to have a truly Montessori home. Order is the grounds for true independence. Young children especially, have a great need for order. They will appreciate and help keep this order if it is given to them. As they get older, entering into the 2nd plane of development (6 to 12 years old) they will need help to maintain external order. During these years internal order is more prevalent, they are ordering their minds. This isn’t an excuse or an escape from needing external order, it just means it may not be as natural as it was during the first 6 years of life.
The Need for Beauty
Often times we can think beauty means expensive, and this is not the case. I would consider my home beautiful, but I have never bought a piece of new furniture, except for our bed! I have found pieces second-hand or refinished things to be more beautiful. Beauty is important because it creates a need for respect and being careful. When we have beautiful things, we want to take care of them. Young children love beautiful things and they can learn to care of them.
Beauty can be found easily when we eliminate the clutter. When we can actually see an object for what it truly is, it becomes more beautiful. Try this little exercise. Take all of the toys or books or things on your refrigerator door. Remove them all, and choose 4 to 6 things to display or keep out. Maybe find a basket or a tray to set things on. Store some of the extra things in another area or simply get rid of them. Having less instantly feels like more because you can see the things for what they are.
When children have so many toys and yet say they don’t have anything to play with it is because nothing is attracting their eye. Beauty is a tool we can use to engage our children. When things are displayed beautifully, they want to use them. However, things shoved into a box or toy chest become instantly less appealing. Less is more.
A Prepared Environment
Dr. Maria Montessori talks about the prepared environment, the place that is prepared with the needs of the child in mind. Consider these things when preparing your environment.
- Size of the objects and furniture
- Developmentally appropriate toys and materials
- Independent access
- Easy to restore
- Visual access
- Space for large motor activities
Tips to Making a Space Beautiful
Display things in odd numbers
I picked up this tip from my mom back in the day, and I love it! When I set objects on top of a table, shelf, or on a bookshelf I always place them in odd numbers (1, 3, 5, etc.) It creates balance, which is visually appealing.
I LOVE lamps. I think I had about 20 in my classroom. There are lamps all over my home. Lamps make a space cozy. It’s nice to have natural light and then a little lamplight if needed. Lamps also can offer so much character to a space.
Hide the Ugly
The truth is there are necessary things that just aren’t aesthetically pleasing. A printer, cords, filing cabinet, storage totes, etc. I like to find ways to hide them so they aren’t ever the focus of a space. Tucking them away or behind closed doors is a great way to make a space more beautiful.
A beautiful table runner or curtains can add a lot to a space. Even a fun pillow or rug can be a great addition to a space.
A challenge to take with you…
We live in a culture and society that always suggests more, more, more! It is a fighting battle to be purposeful and intentional with the things we bring into our homes. I wouldn’t consider myself a minimalist, but I am purposeful with what I have. I know what I own and strive to know where things are kept and stored. Can you to find small ways to create beauty in your home, put some flowers in a vase in the bathroom, or set a bar of soap on a small pretty dish. These little things make a difference. The second part of the challenge is to know what you own. That will require going through the closets, cabinets and boxes. Find a place for everything.