By Mr. Andrew (Toddler Community Teacher)
The prepared environment came from Montessori’s idea that the environment in which the child is in should facilitate and maximize the child’s independence and exploration. The environment is well ordered and encourages movement and activity. Within the environment, the child is free to choose their work and activities based on what catches their interest. The teacher's job is to link the child to the environment through lessons on how to use the materials. The child then teaches themselves through the environment.
There are certain aspects of the prepared environment. Such as freedom of movement, structure, beauty, based in reality, and social and intellectually stimulating.
Freedom: Montessori believed that the child must be free to move around the environment and explore at their own pace. Through these experiences, the child will increasingly develop knowledge of the world around him. This freedom will lead the child to the ultimate freedom, freedom of choice. With this freedom, Montessori also believed there should be clear expectations of the environment. These expectations are called limits within the freedoms. i.e., when inside, we use walking feet.
Structure: After talking about freedom, I am sure structure sounds like a complete opposite. The structure surrounding the prepared environment is to help the child internalize order. Everything should have its place and be purposeful. Having materials on the shelf that are color-coded, so the child knows what materials belong together.
Beauty: Montessori believed that the environment should be beautiful, be tranquil, and be inviting. It should be free of clutter and well maintained.
Based in reality: Montessori felt that children should be in nature, as it should inspire the child. The environment should be filled with natural materials, things made of real wood, glass, different metals, and cotton. The furniture should reflect the size of the child; so that the child is not dependent on the adult.
Socially and Intellectually stimulating: Along with the freedom to move about the environment as needed; the child should be allowed to socialize with others as needed. Through this social freedom, the child is encouraged to develop a sense of compassion and empathy for others. These types of interactions are supported throughout the environment due to the nature of having multi-aged classrooms.
Montessori believed that without the all of these different aspects, the intellectual environment would not reach its purpose, to develop the whole child. Much planning is involved in preparing a classroom that is designed to meet the needs of ALL children.
With this, I end with a quote.
“The child can develop fully by means of experience in his environment. We call such experiences ‘work.’” Maria Montessori (The Absorbent Mind, p. 88)