by Olynda Smith
Children and babies are deeply impacted by the sights, sounds, smells and opportunities for exploration and play that they have around them. Montessorians call all these things and how they are arranged “the environment”. While there are great general guidelines for setting up your home play space, little ones need different things at different ages. Here are some age-specific considerations to put into play in your play spaces:
Babies need very little, and the simpler you keep their space the better.
- A cozy mat on the floor allows young infants to see the room and the movement of family members.
- Age-appropriate mobiles, hung twelve inches above them, will be interesting to them, and develop their visual abilities as well as their concentration. For added interest, change the mobiles every 4-7 days. Make sure to keep them age appropriate. Their vision changes dramatically in the first 3 months!
- A mirror placed near their cozy mat on the floor gives them even more to explore.
- A cozy chair for feeding, cuddling and chatting together is essential.
- A basket or two with a few rattles and black and white books for you to read to them is a great addition.
- Around 3 months you can begin introducing the play gym and tactile mobiles.
- Once you see them purposefully grasping, you can introduce rattles and other items to encourage those fine motor skills. Place a few at a time in the basket, and start your rotations, by changing them every week or so.
Once your little one can sit on their own, and eventually move about the space your environment needs will change!
- Now it’s essential to make the place a yes space. Cover those sockets, stash all chokeables and make sure everything within reach is OK to play with and mouth.
- A low shelf can be introduced at this time, with a few items they can retrieve on their own or let you know they want to work with if they aren’t mobile yet.
- We suggest 8 or fewer items on the shelf for now. Place the items on the front end of the shelf to avoid them hitting their head on the higher shelves when trying to get something out.
- Visual mobiles can still be used, especially above the changing table. But they have aged out of the play gym and tactile mobiles.
Once your little one is walking, their play space can be upgraded to meet their new needs.
- Make sure there is ample space for practicing walking.
- For cruisers, a long bar, or edge of a table or couch is a great way for them to steady themselves as they move.
- Re-childproof and keep it a yes space now that they have more reach and speed!
- You can now place things on the slightly higher shelves, try to keep the amount of toys out between 8-10.
- Hang pictures of family members or other pictures/art of interest at eye level.
- Consider a low table and chair or floor table for art work or other activities.
- This is a great time to introduce functional, child sized practical life items like a broom, or small brush and dustpan.
- Make sure to include a front facing book shelf at this time, with up to 10 books out at a time.
Around three your little one will be craving more to explore. And they will be able to manage more in their space.
A table with child sized chairs for eating and playing at is essential.
- You can expand their play space to include a few different “areas” where things are available for play in addition to the 8-10 toys on their shelf and their reading nook. Some options are: an art area, a building area, a place for games, a place for puzzles, a music area, a place for playdough and other wet work and/or a doll house.
- Each area will have just at most 3-4 items available at a time. For example: You might choose to place some blank paper, a clipboard and a small container with a few crayons, and few stamps and a stamp pad in it in a bin under their table. This would be the “art area” and you can rotate what is in that bin just as you would with the toys.
- A calendar on the wall is a wonderful addition to the playspace at this time, you can use stickers or draw on it so children know what to expect from that day. Ideally you make time each morning to cross off the day before, and look together at the day ahead.
- A “care of the environment” area with a broom, dustpan, duster and small bucket and sponge for cleaning up wet spills is wonderful for promoting independent clean up. These items will not rotate, they will be a constant
part of the environment.
Tailored to their needs!
One of the most important Montessorian practices is called “follow the child”. These guidelines are meant as a starting point. Here are some ways to make sure your space is suited for your family and child.
- If clean up is overwhelming for them, or you are noticing signs of overstimulation (they have a hard time settling into their work or melt down in the playspace often) you might consider having fewer things out for play at a time.
- Make sure to be mindful about lighting, smells, textures, and sounds and how they impact your little one.
- If your child is in an explosion of interest and activity within an area of play (for example: puzzles/art/dollhouse) consider expanding that one to include a few more items and removing another area of play for a while.