One of the main facets of a Montessori education is the prepared environment. Even if you know very little about the philosophy behind Montessori, you will know about the child-sized furniture and materials. Maria Montessori first developed the idea of a prepared environment while observing children, and from there she came up with six principles of a prepared environment that no classroom can go without.
What are those six principles? It’s time to find out.
What is a Prepared Environment?
The prepared environment in Montessori is crucial to the classroom. Before Maria Montessori’s philosophy started making waves, people didn’t think about giving children proportionally sized items, chairs, tables, and brooms. How things have changed!
Montessori schools have beautifully constructed classrooms that are designed so that children can be as independent as possible. Plus, there are accessible items available throughout the classroom. Children can occupy themselves as they see fit and develop a wide variety of skills.
Furthermore, the prepared environment has one goal: child development. The classroom (or even your home) is set up in such a way that there are external activities throughout that compliment a child’s development strengths and weaknesses. In a Montessori school like Fishtown Montessori, there are specially prepared environments for different age groups.
Six Principles of a Prepared Montessori Environment
There is much more to the prepared environment than what meets the eye. Montessori teachers invest a lot of time in setting up the perfect space for their infant and toddler and primary classrooms. Here are the six principles that they go by:
- Structure and Order
- Social Environment
- Intellectual Environment
- Nature and Reality
Now let’s look at these principles in greater detail:
Maria Montessori said, “The first aim of the prepared environment is, as far as it is possible, to render the growing child independent of the adult.”
Freedom refers to the freedom of choice, of movement, and of interaction. Children are allowed to make a choice of who they want to work with, what they want to learn, and so on. They aren’t coerced to work in a group or on a certain subject. Rather, freedom focuses on the development of agency and to set up boundaries.
The defining point is that freedom in the prepared environment is not unlimited. Instead of confusing the children with infinite possibilities, they are given the choice between one or two things, such as which item to work within.
2. Nature and Reality
Interacting with the world around you is a cornerstone of a Montessori education. Maria Montessori believed that children could learn more from being among nature than they could from a book, and so nature is incorporated into the prepared environment.
The first way this is done is with Montessori materials. This means that the learning items and furniture are constructed out of organic materials, like wood and metal. But the items are also real, not fantasy. Children learn dexterity with utensils instead of dolls, for instance.
It’s not unusual to see a Montessori classroom full of children sewing, arranging flowers in a vase, practicing with buttons and zippers, and stacking wooden blocks.
3. Structure and Order
It might seem bizarre to have Structure and Order follow the principle of Freedom within limits, but it fits together naturally.
In The Secret of Childhood by Maria Montessori, she writes, “Order consists in recognizing the place for each object in relation to its environment and remembering where each thing should be… the proper environment of the soul is one in which an individual can move about with eyes closed and find…anything he desires. Such an environment is necessary for peace and happiness.”
In other words, structure and order reveals the truth of the universe. Between the ages of 1 and 3, children are soaking up input from their environment. When there is a routine and children know what to expect, children learn how to be confident and organized. They can start to make rationalizations about the world, because the structure of the classroom is their baseline.
Additionally, by limiting the chaos of the classroom, the teachers eliminate any distractions that could affect a child’s ability to concentrate.
It is extremely rare to stumble across a boring Montessori classroom. A prepared environment is designed to be harmonious, uncluttered, and inviting. The colors, materials, and layout is all meant to inspire tranquility within the children.
A beautiful prepared environment typically has plenty of windows and outdoor light, potted plants, and pastel colored walls and carpeting. Generally, the classroom should feel less like a traditional school and more like a home.
5. Social Environment
A prepared environment is more than just the interior design and materials. The classroom space is meant to feel like a home for more than one reason. Children should feel comfortable enough to be social. Since they are given the freedom to interact with one another throughout the day, they can start to develop social and emotional intelligence.
Montessori education also calls upon teachers to act as guides for Grace and Courtesy. Throughout the day, teachers help children be more empathetic and understanding of one another, especially when conflict arises. Children learn how to sit down and sort through their emotions instead of having a tantrum.
6. Intellectual Environment
If the other five principles are disregarded, then the intellectual environment cannot be achieved. At the end of the day, the Montessori classroom is as much of a teacher as the teacher. The environment supports the growth of the children in more ways than intellect. Children work with the materials to gain skills in practical life, language, mathematics, sensorial, and cultural aspects.
But if there is something amiss, it will be difficult for the child to focus on their activities.
Looking for a Montessori School?
Montessori schools spend a lot of time and environment planning out their prepared environments for each class level. The teachers decide which items are developmentally appropriate, and they gather materials to assist with the growth of every child in the room. That’s why it is important to find a Montessori school that is fully committed to the best prepared environment.
Fishtown Montessori was founded by certified Montessori teachers with years of experience. Each classroom is carefully crafted to support the growth of your child. If you are interested in enrolling your children in a Montessori program, why not get in touch with us? You can also sign up for a virtual tour of the school today!