I had the honor of leading a parent night yesterday at Broad Branch Children's House in Washington DC. All the parents in attendance had a similar question: how can I offer more independence to my children without losing my sanity? It can be a very delicate balance, but the place to start is preparing a space. A prepared environment encourages independence, responsibility, and developmental support through its very design! You can prepare your home for your children by considering your physical design, daily routines and habits, and what the adults in your home say and do.
I've collected some of the photos I shared during this class so you can see some key elements of a prepared space at various ages. Read more about hiring us to help design your space here.
Newborns and Infants
M.O. of this stage: orientation and building trust
Children this age needs very simple toys (or none at all) and a space to move on the floor in family shared space. Safety, consistency and routine are key. It's more important to limit stimulating things, so your child doesn't become overwhelmed, stressed, or zoned out. Offer encouragement, gentle care, and lots of love.
Mobile Infants (rolling, crawling, creeping, standing, etc)
M.O. of this stage: coordinating movement and exploration
Create a safe “yes” space where you can say yes to everything and anything your child chooses to touch or do with simple, quality toys that don't “do” anything (no electronics). Everyday objects are even better! Provide time for your child to practice moving on their own, and time to be outside. Talk to your child about what is happening in a respectful manner. (Now I’m lifting your legs).
Toddlers (walking~3 years)
M.O. of this stage: exploration and personal power
I highly suggest going outside everyday, on a short toddler-paced walk. make sure you are repeating back what your toddler says to you (parroted speech), singing, and talking about what is happening around you with a rich vocabulary. Your toddler needs materials to support her self-care: place setting items, a small table or chair your child can get into herself, a few simple clothing choices, and toileting support. Toddlers need safe areas to explore, items to climb and move around, and 5-10 play items available at a time.
Primary (2.5 ~5 years)
M.O. of this stage: Do it myself, and learning through the senses.
In the kitchen, offer place-setting items and a collection of smaller kitchen tools for eating and cooking independently. At this age, you can begin to encourage cleaning up after meals, activities, and play. For play, keep a handful of open-ended toys available and organized. Your child needs uninterrupted blocks of time to play at home, keep scheduled activities to a minimum. Show your child how to do simple tasks and help her as she needs it. You can also create and demonstrate simple activities your child can do on her own. Primary children are still absorbing EVERYTHING in the environment, and so be mindful of what you say and do. Simple responses and explanations are still best for this age. Offer limited choices and suggestions if needed.
35 Helpful Catchphrases
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Elementary (5-9 years)
M.O. of this stage: learning everything about the world, especially social structures, power, values, justice, and ethics.
At this age, you can begin to expect some responsibility in cleaning up after meals, activities, and basic self-care. Keep a collection of smaller kitchen tools for eating and cooking independently, as well as a few simple recipes. For play areas, children need open-ended toys, tools, and materials. I encourage creating science, writing, reading, art, and music areas. Your child needs uninterrupted blocks of time to play at home, keep scheduled activities to a minimum. Elementary children will be paying close attention to your values, fairness, and worldview. Now is the time to challenge conclusions, offer suggestions, and ask lots of questions.
Leanne Gray, M.Ed is the owner of The Prepared Environment, which supports families in creating an ideal environment for their children at home. She has over fifteen years experience working with children in both public, private, and Montessori schools, and is AMI primary trained. She particularly loves to hear from you! You can always contact her for personalized support and answers to your questions.