Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Prepared Environment

I love visiting people's blogs when they share a good overview of their daily activities (workboxers call it "What's in the Box?"). It's been in the back of my mind to share what's in our workboxes, but haven't gotten around to that.  Instead, I'll share some the other aspects of our homeschool environment.

Montessori talks a lot about having a prepared environment, one in which the children can choose from materials that are set up in such a way that fosters independent learning.  But it's not simply having materials out, the environment is to be ordered and calm and the materials should allow them to charge of their own learning.  I've also heard the prepared environment described as calm, beautiful, accessible, and structured.  Personally, I also want an environment that encourages the kids to play creatively.  Now I'm not so sure our set-up is beautiful (we're making due with what we have since we've just moved from furnished accommodations overseas), but it is functional for us.  I am impressed by how much the kids do on their own.  I'll set things up the night before and find that the kids find activities and do them on their own -- often without me noticing. 

Anyway, here are a few generic photos of our set-up. Much of this is geared for ED and DD. (This is in addition to what I've placed in LD and DD's workboxes.)  I'll be sharing some of our fall theme related activities, crafts and experiments sometime soon; that's been our big focus this past week or so.  Grams and Gramps are here for a visit, so I'm not blogging as regularly, but instead am trying to unpack and settle in a bit more--hanging pictures, etc.

We have just moved and are using what we have on hand to create an environment where the kids can be self-directed.  We have some very low tables and I bring out new things daily or every other day.  For example, in the picture above, I set out a board game and a bead stacking activity.Other things I've set out recently include board games, Montessori cards, sorting and tonging activities, pattern blocks, dress-up bears, card games, and so forth. I've seen other people set out their materials on bookshelves, but I find that the kids actually stand/sit at these tables and do the activity right there (or on the floor nearby).  That works well for us.

Our craft table is a major source of activity.  Each morning I make sure the paper (a huge ream of butcher paper) is fresh and often I set out a craft they can do independently (though unfortunately I can't yet trust ED with scissors or glue so that only comes out when I'm in the room).   Lately the girls have been enjoying coloring pages too, so I often set out a couple new pages if they're interested.

There have been times when I set out theme tables, but lately I've just been going through the cupboards and rotating in various materials they haven't used since our move. It's been a joy in particular, watching ED (2 1/2) who now does so much on her own with little or no direction/help from me leaving me free to work with the other kids as they need it.

I'm always asking myself if I've set out things that pique the kids' interest, are challenging enough, foster independent-learning in some way, allow them to feel a sense of accomplishment and things like that. 


  1. Thanks for sharing this. I love it! I love how you use fairly ordinary items (as things that most of us have at home) and set them out for the children, in a montessori type fashion.

    I have one question. You talk about setting up a night. Do you pack everything away in the afternoon and then set up new activities every night or do you just rotate stuff, so some things stay out for awhile etc etc?

  2. Hi Kylie,

    After I wrote that post I wondered if it was a bit ho-hum especially when I see the fantastic (and pretty) set-ups that other people have.

    I wish I could say that things get nicely put away in the afternoon, but honestly things are usually a mad-house mess by then! Generally there are craft bits on the floor, half-put away activities and things just look messy. If I clean up and get new things in the afternoon, the kids come running and they do more activities (and create more creative messes!!). I don't mind that, but the reality is that I have to get out fresh paper and rotate in new items after they've gone to bed if I want things fresh for the next day. Depending on the items and interest I either keep them out for a few days or rotate in new things. I put out a new board game as soon as one has been played (or after a few days have gone by whichever comes first!)

    I never bother getting out new activities on Wednesday evenings as I teach music classes on Thursday mornings and our friends stay for a while after that. So on Thursday afternoons we just cover the "basics" and little else.

  3. Fabulous, thanks. :)

    And not ho hum at all, we all can't have the perfect set up, yours is so much more realistic for everyone I think :-)