Preparing Your Home to Meet the Needs of Your 3-Year-Old


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On January 22, 2015, Carolina Parent hosted a live Facebook chat with the experts at the Montessori Children's House of Durham on about preparing your home environment to help your three-year-old thrive. Here's a transcript of the conversation:

Carolina Parent Magazine: Welcome to the Carolina Parent and the Montessori Children's House of Durham - AMS & SACS Accredited "Preparing Your Home Environment to Meet the Needs of Your Three-Year-Old" LIVE Facebook chat! Today we'll be talking with Cynthia Hughey (Assistant Head of School), Lisa Tate (Early Childhood and Kindergarten Teacher) and Lyn Dickinson (Office Manager and MCHD Parent) about making simple adjustments to home spaces to address a three-year-old's growing need for order, independence and coordination. READERS: Ask a question as a comment below this post and don't forget to REFRESH your page!

Carolina Parent Magazine: Welcome, experts! Onto the first question: What is a Montessori-inspired home?
Montessori Children's House of Durham - AMS & SACS Accredited: Good morning! We're excited to join you today.
Montessori Children's House of Durham - AMS & SACS Accredited: I think the best way to approach the idea of independence in the home is to familiarize yourself with these two concepts. The first is to see your child as capable and worthy of your trust and the other is expressed by this Montessori quote, "These words reveal the child's inner needs: help me do it alone."

experts.jpgIn practice, these are features of a Montessori inspired home:
• the child's belongings are placed on low-shelves or something easily accessible by the child and limited in quantity.
• the child is involved in the activities of the home — give your child the job of putting out the placemats at the dinner table, chopping apples for her snack, or feeding the dog in the morning.
• provide an enriching home environment and then give your child the space to explore this environment. 
• respect (trust) the child's developmental process and don't rush or push a child to milestones. 

Carolina Parent Magazine: One of our readers wrote in: "What's the best way to foster independence around the home — within reason. I'm still the boss here!" We like this question!
Montessori Children's House of Durham - AMS & SACS Accredited: We like this question too! When your child can make a choice, let her choose. Asking your child to choose between two (parent-approved) outfits is a way to support your child's need for independence and involvement while still being able to "control" the final decision. But don't offer a choice if you aren't 100% ok with either option! Children need their choices to be respected. This is not to say that they make all of the family's choices, however; they also need confident, calm leaders who will set limits and follow-through with them. Giving children limits helps them learn about their world and makes them feel secure. Yes, you're absolutely still the boss.

Carolina Parent Magazine: What's better: a playroom or designated play areas in the most-frequented rooms?
Lauren Isaacs: Great question. Currently struggling with this!
Montessori Children's House of Durham - AMS & SACS Accredited: Well, a playroom is ideal, but not always possible. In cases where playrooms are not available, a designated play area in the living room and/or space in the child's bedroom are good. It is most important that the toys and books the child has available are stored in an organized manner and that the number of items are manageable for the child/children using them. It is better to store some of the toys and allow children to trade out toys they have used for a while.
Montessori Children's House of Durham - AMS & SACS Accredited: Here are a few sample pictures of play space organization, courtesy of janetlansbury.com. 10941010_369436836569995_1236703685500390086_n.jpg 10425885_369437296569949_2097357659510742181_n.jpg 10686901_369437373236608_7361221239055307318_n.jpg Brenda Larson: My friend, Leah, who is an organizational expert, has always had her young children put away one toy to begin playing with another. It has worked wonders for several reasons, including teaching her kids to be responsible for their belongings.
Lauren Isaacs: Looking at the simplicity of these shelves makes me think I need to weed out/swap out....

Lauren Isaacs: Baskets, cubbies, closet: Is one toy storage solution better than the other?
Montessori Children's House of Durham - AMS & SACS Accredited: Thanks, Lauren for your question and patience! Each of these items are wonderful storage solutions for children's belongings. Baskets are good for grouping play things such blocks, cars, dolls, or kitchen ware. Shelves are good for storing art materials, books, or puzzles. Closets are good for storing clothing, baskets of playthings, or shoes.

Beth Poland Shugg: I attended Montessori school at ages 3-4 and my mother was very pleased with the learning style. One thing she instilled in me at a young age was the importance of respecting authority. How does the Montessori style of teaching encourage making choices without questioning authority?
Montessori Children's House of Durham - AMS & SACS Accredited: Montessorians teach respect for all individuals. The teachers set clear, consistent limits for the children that allow them to make appropriate choices within those boundaries.
Montessori Children's House of Durham - AMS & SACS Accredited: For example, if a child is having difficulty at group time, the teacher might say, "Are you able to stay with us today?" If the behavior continues, the teacher will give the child a choice. "Have you decided to go to a table or stay with us?" (Either choice is acceptable, and we present the preferred choice last.) We respect the child's choice, and this enforces that they are responsible for their bodies and behavior. However, if the child is unable to make a choice, then the teacher will say, "I can see that you've decided to go to the table. I will help you or you can go by yourself."
Beth Poland Shugg: So limiting choices also work as a way to discipline the children. Very good.

Michele Huggins: LEGOS! My son loves them, but they are taking over. How do you recommend organizing blocks and small items to make it easy for kids to access, and not drive parents crazy?!
Carolina Parent Magazine: I think you are speaking for every parent on the planet with this question, Michele Huggins!
Montessori Children's House of Durham - AMS & SACS Accredited: Open baskets and plastic storage bins are wonderful. These can be sorted by size or type. I also find that keeping a box or basket for all those instructions can be helpful too, as they may provide inspiration once pieces get all mixed up.

Carolina Parent Magazine: Here's another reader submitted question: "How do I get my child to help me clean up toys after playtime is over? Instead of picking up toys to put away, he just begins playing with them again."
Montessori Children's House of Durham - AMS & SACS Accredited: Keep playthings to a number that is manageable. Have a place for each item and consistently keep each item in its place. Remind children to clean up regularly so that the clean up job does not become overwhelming. For instance, your child could put away the toy he is playing with before getting out another. Have specific times of day everyday that are clean up times.
Montessori Children's House of Durham - AMS & SACS Accredited: Let the child know in advance that a clean up time is coming. "In 10 minutes, we're going to clean up." "In 5 minutes, we're going to clean up the playroom." "It's time to cleanup the playroom now." A visual timer may help young children with this also.
Carolina Parent Magazine: Great tip!

Carolina Parent Magazine: On the subject of toy clean-up, Lindsey wrote in: "My toddler likes to move things from room to room, making cleanup a complete nightmare trekking all around the house. Should I let go of "a place for everything and everything in its place" and just tidy things up in the room she's moved them to?"
Montessori Children's House of Durham - AMS & SACS Accredited: A toddler's need for order is as great as (or greater!) than your own. They develop a great sense of calm and confidence when they know where to find things – it gives them a sense of control over their lives. So don't give up! One strategy in this case is to have a basket or bag available so your child can pick up pieces while trekking around the house. Then at the end of the day, you can re-sort materials with your child to their proper place.
Carolina Parent Magazine: Really fascinating about their need for order when it seems like parents spend a lot of time cleaning up toddler "messes" to make order!
Montessori Children's House of Durham - AMS & SACS Accredited: The simpler the environment, the easier it is for toddlers to participate in maintaining order. Spills, messes, and accidents are a natural part of the day, but toddlers are capable of (and can enjoy) participating in clean up as well, particularly if their tools for doing so are working, right-sized materials.

Katina Baker Faulkner: In order to make clean -up easy, stay organized and really set limits so that our toys don't become overwhelming — what is the best way to purge? and how do I get my boys on board?
Montessori Children's House of Durham - AMS & SACS Accredited: As moms, we all enjoyed this question.
Montessori Children's House of Durham - AMS & SACS Accredited: Universally, we agree that the best way is to do it when the children are not present. Typically, the things you want to purge will become their immediate "favorites" even if they haven't noticed it for years.
Montessori Children's House of Durham - AMS & SACS Accredited: Another strategy is to practice "trading out." Keep purged toys in a storage space, and your child can decide it's time to switch out some items.

Carolina Parent Magazine: How much independence should a 3-year-old have in terms of bathing, and how should the bathroom be set up to support more independence?
Montessori Children's House of Durham - AMS & SACS Accredited: When self care tasks are broken into small steps, they contain many fascinating points of interest for the child. Children can pour the right amount of shampoo, massage gently with their fingertips, and rinse to a song or counting game using a small pitcher for pouring.
Montessori Children's House of Durham - AMS & SACS Accredited: Several easy ideas make bathrooms more accessible for 3 year olds. A stable platform stool makes reaching the sink, counter, or toilet seat easier. Child sized towels and washcloths hung low within reach encourage a child to wash and dry hands and independently hang up a towel back in its place. Of course water toys for the bath are great fun, and a net bag or low shelf adhering with suction cups helps to store and dry the toys between use. As with any space, less is more. Have only a few bath toys out at a time and rotate these periodically for interest.
Montessori Children's House of Durham - AMS & SACS Accredited: For bathroom cleanups, consider cutting a kitchen sponge into 2 or 3 smaller, child-sized sponges or a smaller version of whatever you typically use. After all, children are most interested in using tools like their parents use, in their own comfortable sizing.
Montessori Children's House of Durham - AMS & SACS Accredited: Of course for safety, all children should be supervised while in the bathtub.
Lauren Isaacs: So true about children being interested in using tools like parents use. My daughter is pretty obsessed with the dishwasher, washer/dryer and sweeping up the floor. I try and let her "help" with these tasks! She is only 16 months, though.

Carolina Parent Magazine: Is there such a thing as an ideal outdoor set-up for toddlers? We're thinking ahead to spring!
Montessori Children's House of Durham - AMS & SACS Accredited: We think it's ideal (and necessary) to spend time outdoors everyday. Children should be able to have their hands on dirt, grass, and trees! Water and sand tables are a great investment, as many 3 year olds will spend hours enjoying these. Deck boxes are a great way to store outdoor toys. Have a small garden area, which could be a raised bed, along with real, child sized garden tools and gloves.
Montessori Children's House of Durham - AMS & SACS Accredited: Some pictures of great spaces: 1509793_369450003235345_6961673781915809670_n.jpg
Montessori Children's House of Durham - AMS & SACS Accredited: This sandbox has real kitchen tools for digging and playing. 10945714_369450156568663_4573130949663744247_n-(1).jpg 10346528_369450369901975_3031261114439692944_n.jpg Montessori Children's House of Durham - AMS & SACS Accredited: forsmallhands.com is an excellent resource for child sized tools and toys.

Carolina Parent Magazine: Last question! Should a 3-year-old be able to dress himself or herself? If so, should certain items of apparel be within reach in his/her room?
Montessori Children's House of Durham - AMS & SACS Accredited: Yes! A three year old should have most of his/her clothing available. You may want to pick out clothing the night before and have it laid out for quick dressing the following day. If your child has a unique sense of fashion, allow that for school days and days at home. For occasions that require specific wardrobe pieces, explain and allow your child to pick within the required dress code.
Montessori Children's House of Durham - AMS & SACS Accredited: To contribute to a 3 year old's independence in dressing him/herself, have available clothes that are easy to put on. For instance, pull on shirts that are large enough to fit over their heads easity, pants with elastic waists, socks that are large enough, and slip on shoes.

Carolina Parent Magazine: That's about all the time we have for this fascinating chat! We're off to make some changes around the house later this evening. Thank you Cynthia, Lisa and Lyn of Montessori Children's House of Durham - AMS & SACS Accredited for sharing your time and expertise!
Montessori Children's House of Durham - AMS & SACS Accredited: It's been a pleasure! Thanks for letting us join you. We'd also like to recommend a simple and terrific resource in Patricia Oriti's book, "At Home with Montessori." Thanks again, Carolina Parent!
Carolina Parent Magazine: Looks like a fabulous resource. Thank you so much, ladies!

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