Families of Montessori students, or Montessori families, can bring the aesthetics of the Montessori environment home using interior design tactics recommended by Dr. Montessori for a Children’s House. Early elementary children, drawn to spontaneous and social activity, thrive best in environments that are well designed, thoughtfully furnished, and carefully maintained. According to Dr. Montessori, in addition to a garden and access to the outdoors, an environment conducive to productive labor and peace should have three main areas: an “intellectual work” space, a “dressing room” for self-care, and a “club room” for socializing. To make your child’s room or study area suitable for supporting Montessori education, there are a few simple design tips for homeschooling families that can aid in keeping down the clutter and creating an inspiring place for your child to explore.
By looking at a traditional Montessori classroom, the casual observer will note that Dr. Maria Montessori was a real stickler for order, beauty, and simplicity in design. You can get the Montessori look for your child’s room/work space by choosing furniture and décor items that are well-crafted with clean lines and natural materials or finishes. Ergonomic (the word is defined as the science of work) considerations are vital in Montessori environments, as the method specifies that all materials and furnishings should be appropriately sized for the child’s use and comfort. Look for plain, light colored wooden items and patterns or textures that are not visually distracting. Most furniture stores and educational supply companies carry youth lines, but if you happen to come across an architectural salvage/recycler shop or school district surplus sale there are often great deals to be had on vintage chalkboards, desks, bookcases, and work tables. With a good eye and willingness to give items a little care in the form of a cleaning or a coat of paint, home schooling families can use inexpensive institutional furnishings to create an ‘intellectual work” space with old school charm.
One aim in environmental design in Montessori classrooms is to create spaces for “intellectual work” in which the student is able to remain at task for as long as they wish to, developing skills in sustained concentration and prolonged activity. Although students are generally encouraged to complete one work before starting another, home schooling families should expect that there will be times when materials are left out or multiple projects may be underway at the same time. Depending on your child’s work style and your philosophies about housekeeping, work left out in plain view of common areas can become problematic. If the idea of stepping over puzzles in the living room or waiting days for a chemical reaction to occur on the kitchen countertop makes your toes curl, it is advised to consider locating your child’s work area where there is the possibility of providing a visual buffer if needed. Folding screens, a curtain, or a covering for the work area can provide some relief when space is limited.
Once you have set up a suitable and comfortable work space for your child, keep the area looking fresh and inviting by rotating materials or making seasonal décor changes. And remember the adage about children growing like untended weeds; make a point to periodically observe your child seated and using easels or chalkboards to determine when an upgrade to a larger size or an adjustment is needed.
Home schooling families may wish to set up several “dressing areas” for their children located in the bathroom, child’s bedroom, and laundry room to empower a sense of personal responsibility and self-care in the areas of personal grooming, dressing, and hygiene. An early elementary dressing area does not require anything fancy; it must simply contain the tools and facilities for the child to attend to their needs independently. To aid in the child’s ability to master self-care tasks without assistance, step stools, low clothing racks, and smaller sized grooming tools should be provided. Directions or sequencing instructions can be posted to illustrate complex tasks or provide a check-list of things to do while minimizing the need for intervention or reminders.
The “club room” in a Children’s House, as described by Dr. Montessori, is similar in design and use to a residential living room, recreation room, or sitting parlor. It is intended to be a comfortable spot to gather and socialize, equipped with games, reading materials, recorded music and instruments. In the “club room”, low shelving and bookcases are ideal storage solutions when used with baskets and bins to arrange and display materials. Sets of simple woven baskets, wooden boxes or other containers of various sizes can be used to create a cohesive design and keep like materials and small pieces together. Steamer trunks, toy bins and other large catch-all storage containers are to be avoided; the child should be able to select and return each material from a specific space without having to root around to find it.
Unlike “intellectual work” space, eating and drinking (and serving and sharing) should be allowed and encouraged in the club room, making a child sized cleaning set a good thing to have set up nearby. Depending on the floor plan of your domicile, locating the club area in close proximity to the kitchen can prove helpful. Throughout the entire house in locations where it can be appreciated by the child, the placement of live plants, flowers, and fine representational art is encouraged.
The philosophy and practices of Montessori classroom design as adapted to home use is a growing field of interest to both educators and architects. Jim Dyck of The Architecture Practice
is an architect that holds AMS certification and specializes in Montessori environments. His work on the subject, including articles, diagrams, and presentations on the subject of Montessori and architecture can be found at his site at http://www.taparch.com/montessori_articles.php?numa=1
Written by Miriam Coates
Miriam Coates holds a Masters of Arts in Education and Montessori from St. Catherine University, Advanced Montessori Studies Program, and she also holds an American Montessori Society Early Childhood credential, and an undergraduate degree in Humanities. With over fifteen years experience in the educational field, Miriam has worked as an educational consultant, Montessori directress, curriculum designer, and youth advocate. With passions for Montessori, home-schooling, foodways and sustainability studies, she is a freelance writer and education consultant for a variety of clients, including Magellan Montessori LLC.