We are seeking to create environments for our littlest people that offer them the joy and freedom of early childhood, with nourishment for their minds, bodies and souls. These are practical living spaces that work for our children, meaning that the focus is not on our convenience, but on their need to move, to explore and to discover.
Starting a new path, a new way of being can seem overwhelming at first, particularly as being a parent is the toughest ‘on the job’ learning that we could ever do! So wherever you are in your parenting journey, I would suggest to begin by setting your intention and saying out loud what it is you want, what you are looking to achieve on this new path.
Know that the pace of life that a child needs is contrary to the way that the majority of us live in the modern world. When we commit to an Enriching Environment for ourselves and our children we also commit to slowing down, and hence simplifying every aspect of our lives whilst our children are small. This could mean having certain days at home just pottering about, strolling outdoors in nature just for the pleasure of it, and being with ourselves and our children without needing to fill that space.
The reality of life is that we will need to work, and we will need to run errands, and we do have many demands on us. Our role as parents is to look at these adult world demands and understand where we can change and adapt to make these demands less onerous for our children in their early years.
Here are some of the ways you can bring an Enriching Environment into being, both by adapting yourself to the environment, and adapting the environment to the needs of your child.
Aligning your inner environment with the outer environment
- Commit to joyful, playful and empowering parenting. Know that you can enjoy this time and find fulfillment in parenting in tandem with riding the emotional and physical challenges it presents. Know in your heart that this is the most beautiful journey of self discovery you will ever go on, and that you are travelling this path hand-in-hand with your child.
- Recognise that in travelling this path, the whole dynamic of how you approach the world of parenting will change.You will no longer be a passive recipient of the baby “stuff” that does not provide nourishment for your child. Know that you will view each situation and so-called “educational toy” through the lens of an enriching environment.
- Commit to only having items in your home that make your heart and soul sing. Remove anything for yourselves or the children that does not make your heart sing.
- Know that it will be helpful to state your ‘new’ boundaries regarding appropriate gifts and pastimes for your children.
- Know that you may need to reach out for support from a circle of other parents who are also seeking enriching environments for their children.
Adapting the environment to the needs of your child
- Start to look at your environment with a child’s eye. Sit on the floor and observe what will be in her eyeline if she is an infant, toddler or 3-6 year old. Look at how the environment needs to be rearranged so everything she needs is at her height.
- Keeping her items within her reach, height, and eyeline will give her what she needs at her fingertips, so she can get on with the business of growing into her full abilities without having to ask you all the time for objects to work with. Anything which is not appropriate for her use should be out of reach so you do not have to endlessly correct her. (Think of how frustrating it would be as an adult to be constantly corrected!)
- Dedicate two shelves in the communal area as the child’s space. One shelf should have no more than three toys on it. All other toys can be arranged away out of sight in a cupboard.
- The second shelf should be real ‘work’: a basket of washable cloths for spills, dustpan and brush, spray bottle with water, broom and mop. (Buy normal sized brooms and mops and cut them down to child size).
- Remove all but three books on display in the sitting room and child’s bedroom. Put all the rest away in a cupboard. Books should be displayed with the cover facing forwards so as to attract the child’s attention. Books should have rich language, words, poetry, rhyme and/or beautiful illustrations.
- Remove all plastic cutlery, beakers, plates etc. Use crockery, glass and metal instead . Role model how to hold glasses with two hands and plates with two hands. Role model how to walk with these carefully and steadily (without shouting “careful” or slowly” every five seconds!)
- Remove all plastic toys. Commit to only having toys from natural materials moving forward. Sell all of that baby “stuff” you bought before having your first child that you have never or rarely used. 😉
- Remove all gender specific toys, branded toys, clothes and merchandise.
- Eliminate all screen time. Children experience the world with all five of their senses during their first six years. The more time we give them for this enriching sensory experience, the more they will come to marvel at the beauty and wonder of the world.
- If you have outdoor space – a garden, terrace or balcony – provide easy, instant access to it so they can be indoors or outdoors as is their need. Being in nature, feeling the wind in their hair and on their skin and hearing birdsong enriches and nourishes a child like nothing else. Set up an easel in this outdoor space so they can draw or paint with the sounds of nature around them.
Nourishing the environment with your support
- Do not interrupt your child if they are working, reading or playing, not even to ruffle their hair or tell them you love them. Concentration is a skill that can only be learned through practice. Give them the gift of learning to concentrate in the early years. It will make studying and working in their future career much more enjoyable for them
- Wait the magic ten seconds. Ten seconds for them to respond when we have asked them a question, ten seconds for them to act when we have requested them to do something, and ten seconds before interfering so we can be sure we really understand what they are working on before we correct them unnecessarily. These ten seconds give us a moment of stillness and peace to enable us to act from the best possible version of ourselves. It is in those magical ten seconds that we really see our children, that we see who they are and where they need our support.