Montessori prepared environment shall be designed to facilitate and maximize child’s independent learning and exploration by offering tools and activities that meet each child’s developmental needs and interests.
Montessori prepared environment is one of the core components of the Montessori philosophy. As such, the ‘prepared’ environment ~that is everything a child comes in contact with ~ should ignite exploration and foster independent learning by providing freedom of choice, offering structure and order with realistic natural beautifully made materials while supporting the child’s social and intellectual development. Such a calm, well-ordered environment offers a lot of movement as a child is free to choose and work on the activity at his/her own pace, experiencing a combination of freedom and self-discipline, as guided by the environment.
“The first aim of the prepared environment is, as far as it is possible, to render the growing child independent of the adult.”The Secret of Childhood, Dr. Montessori, 1966.
There are six components to the Montessori Prepared Environment: Freedom, Structure and Order, Beauty, Nature and Reality, Social Environment; and Intellectual Environment.
Key Components of Montessori Prepared Environment
Dr. Montessori believed that a child must be free to explore and follow his/her own natural impulses, thus developing the potential and increasing knowledge of the world around him/her. Within the prepared environment, the child must experience the freedom of movement, freedom to explore and choose an activity, freedom to interact socially, and freedom of interference by others. This freedom ultimately leads to greater freedom: freedom of choice, which is one of the main goals of a Montessori-prepared environment. While children are given enough independence to choose a daily activity, an adult mentor observes and corrects if needed. Such freedom improves the process of knowing, thinking, learning, and judging, all of which are part of cognitive growth.
(2) Structure and Order
Structure and order in a Montessori prepared environment help children internalize the arrangement of their surroundings to make sense of the world. This in no way stifles the before-mentioned freedom, but rather accurately reflects the spirit of order and structure in the universe. Perceiving the Montessori prepared environment as an undivided microcosm of the universe, a child learns to internalize the surrounding order, thus making sense of the world in which s/he lives.
Notably, Dr. Montessori observed a sensitive period for order which occurs between two and four years of age, characterized by an innate desire for consistency and repetition. Children become passionate about established routines and can be deeply disturbed by the disorder. Thus, the environment must be thoughtfully organized with carefully established ground rules. There should be a place for everything since at this age children begin to draw conclusions of the surrounding world. If the order in his/her environment is lacking, the child’s sense of reason may be compromised since s/he will not be able to validate one’s findings.
Thus, change in a Montessori prepared environment should be carefully considered ~ whether it is suitable for a child ~ while observing its after-effects to ensure that it is of benefit.
Obstacles must be reduced to a minimum and surrounding should provide the necessary means for the exercise of those activities which develop a child’s energies.Maria Montessori
The atmosphere in the Montessori Prepared environment should be prepared beautifully and simplistically, reflecting the attitude of both child and adult. Space should be beautiful, simple, and inviting for learning. Uncluttered and well-maintained, the environment should evoke peace, tranquility, and harmony while enticing a learner to come in and work.
(4) Nature and Reality
Dr. Montessori, having had a deep respect and reverence for nature, believed that nature should be employed to inspire children. And that’s why she suggested that children be frequently taken out into nature, rather than kept confined in the room. This is also why the prepared environment is bursting with natural learning materials like real wood, bamboo, reeds, cotton, silk, metal, and glass. Natural materials are always preferred to synthetics or plastics one as they allow the child to literally touch and feel nature.
Moreover, the materials should be real and child-size, and shelving must be low to the ground and accessible. For example, furniture, a table and a chair, utensils, tongs, pitchers, and cups, cleaning tools, rakes, hoes, shovels, and aprons should fit children’s hands and height to ensure smooth work, proper use, and completion of the work cycle. Such respect and accommodation for a child’s needs allow little people to work with materials independently and without frustration, free from adult dependency for help with movement.
For example, use inexpensive shoe-organizing shelves since they are low to the ground and wide. (See furniture play hacks HERE.) Ideally, you would like wide in length and short in height shelves to give children an opportunity to independently retrieve an activity and then return it back to the shelf.
(5) Social Environment
Moreover, when the prepared environment encourages freedom of interaction, children learn to kindle the sense of compassion and empathy for others, thus advancing their social development. And as children socially develop, they become more socially conscious, preparing to learn to work and play in groups. Montessori multi-age class setting promotes and encourages social interaction, cooperation, and kindness.
(6) Intellectual Environment
Suppose the above components of a Montessori Prepared Environmental are not realized. In that case, the intellectual environment will not flourish as intended since the goal of the Montessori environment is to develop a child’s personality as a whole: not merely the intellect. Only if the learning environment is carefully prepared with the above key elements, can a Montessori educator reach a child through the intellectual environment, setting a child free to fully develop his/her unique potentials. Thus, Montessori space must be filled with developmentally appropriate sensorial materials which move hierarchically from big to small during Five Great Lessons, from simple to complex in Cultural studies, and from concrete to abstract in mathematics or language work. And all that must transpire while meeting the individual needs of each child. Consequently, a child, by experiencing all the five areas of Montessori curriculum (which include Practical Life, Sensorial, Language, Math, and Cultural and Science), builds an internal blueprint on which s/he can create a monumental structure of creativity, responsibility, independence, respect, confidence, and intellectual curiosity.
Meeting Components of Montessori Prepared Environment
To sum up, Montessori prepared environment must have all the six key components to offer a child a chance “to fulfill his potential possibilities to become an independent, secure, and balanced human being.” – Dr. Montessor. She said: “Only through freedom and environmental experience is it practically possible for human development to occur.”
As such, the carefully prepared space must be designed with the child’s independence in mind. Learning materials shall enhance a child’s senses. Freedom of choice shall be encouraged while still maintaining structure and order. The didactic materials within the prepared environment are specially designed and set out on low, easily accessible shelves. Since by keeping the environment child-sized and accessible, the child’s need for adult assistance is minimized while maximizing self-regulated pursuit. Thus, the caring environment is well-prepared and dedicated to nurturing each child’s mind, body, and spirit to ensure success throughout life.
The teacher’s task is not to talk, but to prepare and arrange a series of motives for cultural activity in a special environment made for the child.Dr. Montessori
A child’s-sized advancedly prepared environment must be based on observations of child’s individual needs.
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