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“We must give the child an environment that he can utilize by himself; a little washstand of his own, a bureau with drawers he can open, objects of common use that he can operate, a small bed in which he can sleep at night under an attractive blanket he can fold and spread by himself. We must give him an environment in which he can live and play; then we will see him work all day with his hands and wait impatiently to undress himself and lay himself down on his own bed.”

Maria Montessori A great deal of attention is being focused these days on teaching children responsibility, and yet when we come to prepare an environment for the child to live in, we tend to take all responsibility out of it. The child cannot reach the closet rod to hang his clothes, she cannot choose her own clothes, he can’t reach water when he is thirsty, and she can’t turn the light off in her room. We, in effect, tell our children to be incompetent. Here are some ways you can create an environment in your home that enables your child to act responsibly:

• The young child’s bed should be low to the floor. As soon as the child can come out of a crib, the bed should be easy to get into and out of. Bed covers should be easy for the child to spread up neatly, perhaps a comforter or even a sleeping bag.

• Coat racks should be low enough for the child to reach. Closet rods can be hung low enough for the child. Drawers should be easy to pull out so the child can put her clean clothes away and select her new clothes for the day. A hamper should be easy to toss into.

• Never use a toy box. Imagine the chaos of your desk or kitchen if all your tools were tossed in together. Instead, use low shelves to display books and toys. Encourage your child to display flowers from the field, and hang beautiful art prints at her eye level.

• Notice that in the Montessori class the teacher avoids clutter by placing like items together in a beautiful box, an interesting basket, or on a tray. Sturdy bags work well for unbreakables, and they’re easy to grab to take along for a doctor’s appointment or a long car trip.

• In the kitchen, set aside a low space in the refrigerator for milk, juices, cheese, fruits, and vegetables. On a low shelf in the cabinet, set dried fruits, dry cereals, and nuts for snacks. Your child will eat responsibly.

Probably the biggest detriment to responsible children is the adult in the environment. How have you prepared your home? How have you taught your child to handle the things in your home? They can do it, and do it well, when we teach them.