How to Cultivate a Homeschool Space
One parent shares her best tips and learnings on how to create and cultivate a home school Montessori space
When the pandemic overturned our established school-work-home routine, I found myself caught in-between grief and relief. I was sad for what had abruptly changed within our established proverbial village, but I also felt gratitude for being able to return to the front lines of my children’s development –– something I’ve long been passionate about. So, when we decided to take the plunge into homeschooling, I felt an immediate calling to dedicate energy towards cultivating a homeschool space, which is no easy feat! So many questions and needs arise with this shift, emotionally and logistically. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
First, honor your emotional space.
Continuing my children’s learning at home alongside my own telework, a third pregnancy, my husband’s military career and college, has not been rainbows and butterflies thus far. It has been a humbling period of self-reflection, struggles and growth. There have been encouraging days, and there have been doubt-filled days. I knew when we decided to officially commit to homeschooling, we were doing so at a time when community was, at least by traditional standards, less accessible. It’s unchartered territory. Yet I couldn’t be more hopeful.
I have learned directly from my children, time and time again, how easy it is to falsely underestimate. Children are deeply capable. Sometimes as parents we forget to extend this reassurance to ourselves. We too are deeply capable. If you are joining me in homeschooling during this pandemic year, remember that you are capable! It will be a journey, not a sprint, and we must give equal attention to preparing ourselves as the adults (I’m thinking of you, self-care) as much as we prepare for our children.
Next up – don’t go into it alone.
Just as we shouldn’t underestimate our own doing, we shouldn’t underestimate our community and how it is enduring this pandemic. Where we feel loss in what is different, there is also innovation, creativity, and revitalized energy to be found between parents and educators. Our family’s Guidepost community, and the Montessori community at large, has passionately banded together at a pace that I haven’t seen before! I can either focus on how isolating it feels to navigate a physically distanced new normal, or I can focus on how many opportunities there are to connect in new ways.
These emotional and social commitments are important frameworks to cultivating a homeschool space. How we feel going into this year will directly set the tone for our children. Once we are feeling confident and grounded, this powerful energy will directly translate into our physical homeschool space.
The fun part – prepare your homeschool space!
I was already 4.5 years into cultivating a shared Montessori-aligned playroom. With two children close in age, we had accumulated plenty of furniture, toys and materials. So, I wasn’t starting from scratch, but I was looking at our space with a new lens: How can I evolve this prepared environment so as not to limit it to open-ended play, but to promote deeper, knowledge-guided discovery? Not that open-ended play would no longer be meaningful, it’s just that our home used to be primarily aimed at helping them de-compress from school. Now, the goal was to actively inspire a love of learning that their classrooms so beautifully satisfied before.
Staying true to my pledge to lean on community, I reached out to our school’s Prepared Environment Team for an open-ended chat with Montessori Educator and Prepared Environment Specialist, Laura St. John. It was a breath of fresh air to share some of my questions out loud and hear her perspective! Here are the biggest takeaways from our chat:
- Alleviate the pressure to “duplicate” the Montessori classroom.
I knew it was not necessary to duplicate the Montessori classroom when they were in school – but should I with homeschooling?
There are tried and true pillars of a prepared environment that function beautifully at home and in the classroom (structure and order; beauty; nature and reality; freedom within limits) – but this overlap is not meant to overpower the fact that there are differences.
“When we set up our environments at school, we actually want to make it as homey as possible – hence the name ‘Children’s House,’ Laura said. “The child’s two worlds between school and home should be as seamless as possible. It’s not one vs. the other.”
This perspective helped me step back and see our homeschool space as not “lesser than” because it wasn’t like the classroom, and instead look at our homeschool space as its own space. There are things that will be similar, and there are things that will be different – and the latter is not just okay, but desirable!
Plus, many of the aspects to a Montessori classroom, like the practical life shelves, already exist naturally in our daily living. Practical life unfolds in our kitchen, music and art in our family room, culture in community, math and science in nature.
- Less is still more.
Despite this recognition that learning can happen beautifully outside of a classroom, I admittedly felt immediate pressure to add so much more stuff to their space. If we are now learning more at home, shouldn’t I place out all of the things? Not necessarily. The ideal balance will ultimately depend on the child and age, but generally for my preschoolers, Laura reassured me that 8-12 accessible materials per child is plenty – whether for a playroom or a homeschool. Too much stuff can quickly become overstimulating, lessen engagement, and inhibit our ability to observe our children’s interests.
That said, the prepared environment should not fall stagnant. I added a second shelf for our homeschool space after noticing that our 8-cubby shelf felt limiting and crowded for two (soon three). It was also important for me to cater more deeply to my daughter and son individually, despite being only 19 months apart. This addition was purposeful and allowed me to introduce more of a progression in materials for the more advanced work my son has been getting into, which needed an orderly place.
What helps prevent the space from becoming overwhelming? A de-cluttered, back-end storage system to promote ease of rotation. If you’re still hanging onto too many things in storage, now is the time to free yourself and minimize!
Embrace the overlap between siblings.
Even though I added a second shelf to better cater to the collective range of their interests and capabilities, there is no need to worry about segregating their learning. They can navigate the space freely and choose to work collaboratively or alone. When they do share an interest over the same activity, they can either work together or one can observe and wait their turn.
“With siblings, think of both ages and see which activities can overlap,” Laura added. “In our 3-6 classroom, it is a mixed environment that has a range of introductory activities – like basic sewing – which then progresses and advances to a more advanced needle and thread. The children observe these different works, but there is only one of each because it is important to instill patience.”
On the one hand, it’s efficient for me to embrace this natural overlap, but it also calls for clear guidance. My daughter wants to work with big brother’s moveable alphabet, for example, but it is much too advanced for her. Laura suggests intervening in a positive manner – reframing what the younger child can do by guiding her back to the level that’s age-appropriate. “I see you are interested in this activity, which is all about letter sounds! Before your big brother moved onto this, he used the sandpaper letters over here.”
When it comes to organizing this progression, it can be helpful to arrange materials from left to right, in the order that we read. Laura noted that in the classroom, introductory works begin on the left and gradually advance as the child moves to the right. I definitely wouldn’t have thought of that on my own, but I can't wait to incorporate it on our home shelves!
How is your home learning space coming along? Head over to our parent community on Facebook to share and swap ideas.
Jenna is a trained journalist and writer whose parenting journey transformed after implementing Montessori at home with her three children. She is a passionate advocate for bridging Montessori to the mainstream as a means to build community, empower parent-child relationships, and honor learning as the lifelong journey that it is.
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