One of the most important principles of Montessori is orderly and defined work space. This past week in the #30daystoMontessori challenge, we’ve been working on establishing order in our child’s and our own environments.
Today, I’m going to show you the benefits of using a Montessori work mat (or similar alternative) for helping your child build respect and responsibility in both their play and their work.
This challenge is especially wonderful for those with multiple children!
I love using Montessori work mats, they define a work space as the child’s own and sets an intention to “work.”
Selecting a mat, picking it up carefully, finding the ideal space to work, and rolling it out provides an opportunity to practice gross motor skills and body consciousness, and then everything that gets placed on the mat becomes the responsibility (and privilege) of the child working on that mat.
Not only does the child know that they now have exclusive rights to the material (unless they invite someone to join them on their mat), they also have the responsibility to put their materials away when they are done, before they roll up their mat and signal the end of their work session.
Providing work mats for Montessori work, or just play, allows children to have clear definitions of their responsibilities. They are no longer expected to clean up a playroom that they can’t remember messing up, they are limited to cleaning up their work mat, which they know they put the materials on.
Also, children are encouraged to put things away as they are finished using them, as the mat only provides so much space.
When working with more than one child at home, the mat has the added benefit of creating respect for others’ work and personal space. (And if you don’t have more than one child at home, you can always work on a work mat yourself to establish these principles.)
We use “official” Montessori work mats, but we also have small floor rugs from Ikea that we use to supplement. Other alternatives for Montessori work mats include:
- a yoga mat cut in half,
- a child-size throw blanket,
- a large placemat,
- a soft door or bath rug (as long as the fibers are short and won’t interfere with the child’s work)
- a small table runner,
- or even a piece of bristol board (that your child can decorate!)
To introduce a work mat, show your child how to carry a mat to an unobstructed floor area and unroll it slowly and deliberately. Use only movements which children can easily imitate.
Show your child how to walk around the work mat and not step on the mat. Show them how to roll it up and put it away just as slowly and deliberately as they took it out. Let them try. (Check out practical life lesson on presenting the work mat.)
Next, show your child how any material placed on the mat is theirs to work with, encourage them to put materials back if they start to run out of room, but allow them to make that decision independently. Encourage siblings to either ask to work together, or wait for materials to be returned to their places. If your child leaves their mat and begins to focus their time and energy somewhere else, request that they return to their mat and clean up their materials before moving on. (Offer to help if you need to.)
The whole principle of defining a work space — and taking ownership of that work space — will later extend to working at a table and will help children in other areas of play.
You might also start considering setting up “play stations” or “work stations” in your home which are easily distinguished and easy to maintain. I used a sheet of wood in front of our block area to help defining where the blocks could be built so that blocks weren’t being transported all around the house. Our musical instruments are mainly confined to a stage area, which helps keep “quiet areas” free of noise.
I’d love to see your children working on their mats (and mat alternatives) — if you take on this challenge, please feel free to use the #30daystoMontessori hashtag and share to social media, and feel free to tag me on Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter!