Make Your House A Child-Friendly Home

Author: Elizabeth Foss


By Elizabeth Foss

Imagine that you have just walked into a darkened room. You reach for the light switch but it is up high on the wall, just beyond your fingertips. You sit on the chair in the room, but when you scoot all the way back, your feet no longer touch the floor. There is a lovely vase of flowers on the table and you are intensely curious about how they smell and how the leaves feel but you know it is against the rules to touch them. You are increasingly frustrated in this room and find yourself falling into bad humor. Pretty soon, you are going to misbehave.

One of the overriding principles of Montessori thought is a prepared environment. Both adults and children live in a home and both should feel comfortable there. A child who is truly at home in his house is likely to be much more pleasant. The first step in making a home child-friendly is commonsense baby-proofing done by almost all parents. If something presents a hazard to the child, remove it or change it. Dangerous situations should not be object lessons or training grounds for obedience.

In , Patricia Oriti gives many other ideas for creating an environnment where children and adults are comfortable. Go back to our imagined room. A special strap attached to the light switch makes it simple to operate. A small chair allows a child to sit comfortably. Accessible flowers in a unbreakable vase are suitable for little fingers. There will be no power struggle here.

There are many benefits to an environment where children are welcome. Among them are the likelihood that the child who is free to explore in his home will become more alert, self-sufficient, and content to play alone with Mom nearby than a child who is confined to a playpen or walker in order to restrain him from the "adult house." The former child is supported by his environment not frustrated by it.

A home that is kept orderly and that appeals to a child's innate sense of order (strongest between the ages of 1 and 3) will foster lifelong habits of organization and stewardship. Oriti suggests low dresser drawers with baskets in them and shelves with more baskets for toys. The child as young as two is eager to sort her own clothes and toys into the appropriate place, keeping her room neat, without coaxing or cajoling.

Child-sized mops and brooms make the real work of cleaning floors as enjoyable as a game. Dishes stored down low and child-sized cooking utensils encourage little helpers peeling, scrubbing, and mixing at a time when many moms resort to playpens, television, threats and bribes in order to prepare dinner in peace.

Natia Meehan is a theologian and a certified Montessori teacher. She and her husband, Greg, have created a home enviroment that embraces children. In 2-year-old Clare's room, a low mattress on the floor with a long mirror mounted horizontally has been Clare's bed since she was born. She knows that she can sleep comfortably there when she is tired and can get up all by herself when she awakens. She also knows that she can seek and find comfort from mom and dad should she need them. Her room is completely safe and completely Clare's. The pictures and the crucifix are hung low enough that she can easily see them. A choice of clothing for the day is hung on low pegs to facilitate learning to dress herself. The room reflects both loving care and respect on the part of her parents.

Before she had children, my sister-in-law had one of the most beautifully decorated homes I'd ever seen. The furniture was lovely and it all fit perfectly in immaculately kept rooms. Now there is a Little Tykes playhouse in the middle of her "Early American" living room. There is a child-sized picnic table in the kitchen. A basket, brimming over with toys and a child-sized leather chair have replaced the overstuffed armchair in her family room. Do the children feel comfortable there? Absolutely! My children love to play at her house. Do the adults feel comfortable there? Without question. Visitors are never fearful that children will misbehave. Visits aren't distorted into opportunities for a test of wills. The environment is not chaotic or dictated by children but it is peaceful, encouraging and supportive of them.

Foss is a freelance writer living in Springfield.

This article appeared in the May 18, 1995 issue of "The Arlington Catholic Herald."

Courtesy of the "Arlington Catholic Herald" diocesan newspaper of the Arlington (VA) diocese. For subscription information, call 1-800-377-0511 or write 200 North Glebe Road, Suite 607 Arlington, VA 22203.