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In a Montessori school, step one is preparing the environment. Teachers spend days, sometimes weeks, preparing their classrooms for the new school year. They consider every student, what they love, what they need, and find a place for that in the room. Everything is arranged in precise sequence and according to the skills being developed. A teacher makes sure anything a child may need is somewhere in that room, and we often learn much about our students by observing what it is that they seek. When everything is in place, we make sure the room is also clean, fresh, beautiful, and enticing. There should be plants, animals, art, and music to create a space of inspiration and peaceful learning.

An advantage to having spent one’s career in a Montessori school is the attention to detail we develop, along with our understanding of child development and how to prepare a beautiful learning environment. My husband, Bruce, and I have Infant/Toddler, Early Childhood, Lower and Upper Elementary Montessori teaching credentials between us and have run our school for 36 years in Park City, Utah. Our grandchildren are now 13, 9, 5, 3 and 9 months. They have all attended our school, and they are all classic Montessori children, which, of course, means they are all different!

When our grandchildren come to our house they get right to work, just as if they were walking into class. Finley likes to bake or build with her uncle’s enormous Lego brick collection, Mara likes to draw and read her mom’s comic books, Luna likes puzzles and games, Elliott likes the trains and Strider likes books and things that roll. They know where all those things are and need no help getting started or putting things away. They can go outside and swing, play on the small beach by the pond or (in the winter) clear a skating path on the pond. We have inadvertently collected skates in every size, since those little grand-feet grow so fast! In the summer we like to ride bikes to the neighborhood pool or to a park for a picnic. If it’s to be a sleepover, forts will be constructed of blankets and pillows, and someone will likely stay up too late – often me!

Of course, when they were all babies, it was trial and error to make sure our environment was properly prepared. We scoured the place for baby dangers and retrofitted every room so the grand ones could reach their cooking, crafting, reading, puzzling and building materials. Yes, there is a rocking horse in the living room, a push car in the family room, a child-sized rocking chair in the office, a unicorn in the bedroom, sand toys on the beach, small rakes, and shovels in the garden. Every part of our home has something for the young ones. Just as we prepare our classrooms as teachers, we plan activities in every part of the house as grandparents so the children can always find something interesting to do. We make sure they can access everything they need and put it all away when they are done. And just like in the classroom, they arrive and get right to work. Which leaves us free to sit down and watch them work. Or join them!

I picked up a child-sized silver tea set in a vintage shop several years ago and that has been a favorite of each of the grandchildren. As soon as they can reach the microwave, they can heat the water, select the tea, fill the sugar bowl and creamer, and place cookies on a small china plate. When they are done, whoever can reach the sink washes all these special dishes and puts them carefully back, ready for the next tea party. Between parties there is the silver to polish and the cookies to bake.

And, sometimes, there is nothing more special than a cousin outing — to the aquarium, the museum, skiing, the pool, the beach, biking, hiking — the world is our classroom.

We have seen how successful these children are in school. They can be just as successful in our homes and on field trips with some thoughtful preparation.

Duna Strachan, MEd, is Founder and Executive Director of Soaring Wings International Montessori School in Park City, Utah, mother of two grown, happy, and successful Montessori children and grandmother of five Montessori grandchildren with all kinds of potential!