You are your child's first teacher.
But did you know that there are other influential "teachers" in your child's life?
The second is their educator, in school or preschool.
And the third?
The environment. The space they play in.
The environment is the third teacher
Loris Malaguzzi, the founder of the Reggio Emilia approach to education, first proposed the idea. He said that the physical surroundings, including the layout, materials and atmosphere, play a vital role in shaping children's learning and development. Children are deeply influenced by their environment, and it should be intentionally designed to support and inspire their growth.
The Montessori approach to children’s furniture
The Montessori approach places great importance on creating carefully prepared environments that are conducive to children's growth and development. This includes considering the spaces where children play and learn. Montessori environments are designed to be child-centered, with furniture and materials tailored to the child's needs, size, and abilities.
Child-sized furniture is a fundamental element of Montessori spaces. The purpose of child-sized furniture is to provide children with a sense of ownership and independence over their environment. The furniture is designed to be proportional to the child's size, allowing them to comfortably engage with their surroundings without the need for constant adult assistance.
In a Montessori classroom or home, you will find tables, chairs, shelves, and other furniture that are specifically crafted for young children. The height of tables and chairs is adjusted to match the child's natural body proportions, enabling them to sit comfortably and work at their own pace..
Child-sized furniture also encourages freedom of movement. Children can easily transition between different activities or areas of the environment, fostering a sense of autonomy and exploration. It allows them to make choices and take responsibility for their actions, promoting self-direction and decision-making skills.
Additionally, child-sized furniture provides a sense of order and purpose. Each item has its designated place, whether it's a shelf for books or a cubby for personal belongings. This organization cultivates a sense of responsibility and respect for the environment, as children learn to take care of their materials and return them to their proper places.
In summary, child-sized furniture in Montessori environments serves multiple purposes. It promotes independence by allowing children to engage with their surroundings comfortably, encourages freedom of movement, fosters a sense of order and responsibility, and empowers children to take ownership of their learning and play spaces. By providing an environment that is specifically designed to meet their physical and developmental needs, Montessori spaces support children in their quest for independence and self-directed learning.
Did Maria Montessori invent child-sized furniture?
But she played a significant role in popularizing its use through her educational approach, which emphasizes creating an environment that is tailored to the needs and abilities of the child.
Maria Montessori recognized the importance of providing furniture and materials that were proportionate and accessible to young children. She observed that traditional adult-sized furniture hindered a child's ability to fully engage in their environment and restricted their independence and autonomy. In response, Montessori classrooms began incorporating child-sized tables, chairs, and shelving units, allowing children to comfortably interact with their surroundings.
When you have child-sized furniture at home, you encourage self-directed learning. Your child can easily navigate their environment, choose where and how they work and, ultimately, develop a sense of ownership and responsibility for their learning.
Toys can teach
There is much our children can learn from the materials they play with. Stacking toys, like wooden rainbows, are didactic. By playing with them, we can’t fail to understand seriation, the idea that things must be done in order. Put the pieces together out of sequence and it looks wrong. They don’t fit.
Less tangibly, children learn spatial reasoning and determination from completing a puzzle or balance and symmetry from block play.
And so the toys we offer our children matter. Some have more learning potential than others.
Furniture can teach
My son uses spatial reasoning to fit blocks back into their box after playing with them.
My daughter knows the dolls go in this basket because the storage unit has labelled drawers and she recognises the letter ‘D’.
Your child sorts the beads between the play table’s various compartments.
All three learn essential social skills when they play together at the toy kitchen, taking turns and serving each other.
A bookcase teaches us to categorise and arrange books. Spine showing, in alphabetical order, or facing outwards, grouped by cover image?
Every single item in the playroom is there to be interacted with. What will it teach your child?
Essential children’s furniture
- Play table: draw and paint, build and solve puzzles. And tidy it all away afterwards in neatly concealed compartments.
- Chairs: you can’t play for long if you aren’t sitting comfortably.
- Storage unit: when it’s time to tidy up - or find the next interesting thing - where should all these toys go?
- Portable steps: make more of the playroom accessible
- Bookcase: packed full of stories and fun but also an organisational challenge. How will you arrange your book collection?
- Coat stand: Taking responsibility for getting dressed independently is an essential starting-school skill. What better way to practice than to have a collection of real and fancy dress items to choose from.
- Desk: In the spirit of Maria Montessori, a play table is fine for toddlers and young preschoolers but older children need to work at something better suited to their size. Having a defined space also helps your child focus and engage more deeply in their activities.
- Pencil holders. In the classroom, everything has its place. Learning to organise your desk - and keeping your pencils sharp - is a surprisingly valuable skill.
- Storage boxes: When the fun stops, it’s time to tidy it all away. Storage solutions like baskets and drawers are more than just organizational tools. They are integral parts of the learning environment. By sorting toys into different baskets or drawers, you indirectly introduce your child to categorization, a critical cognitive skill. You can sort toys based on their type, size, or color, encouraging your child to observe similarities and differences.
When you think of an environment as a teacher, imagine it as an active participant in your child's learning process, providing opportunities for exploration, discovery, and learning. With careful planning, you can create a home environment that encourages your child's curiosity and creativity, enhancing their learning experiences.