The Montessori prepared environment warrants additional attention because the classroom plays such an important role in student learning. Most important to understand is the fact and requirement that the entire classroom is very intentionally designed for children based upon the science of child development. Because of this, Montessori classrooms across the globe will look very similar — they all draw upon the same 100+ year body of knowledge that leverages children’s natural inclination to learn regardless of race, culture, gender and socio-economic status.
The prepared environment is wholly geared to maximize children’s independent learning and exploration. Given individualized learning plans, children may choose what they want to work on, with whom they’d like to work and where they’d like to work, and may do so at their own pace as teachers observe and guide them to master learning outcomes. The environment, which includes both the physical space and the multi-age class groupings, directly shapes the children’s experience and their ability to be successful. There are four aspects of the prepared environment that illustrate its impact:
A central tenet of Montessori’s pedagogy and philosophy holds that children must be free to follow their natural interests, leading to opportunities to develop their potential and increasing their knowledge of the world. Within the prepared environment, the child must experience freedom in a number of ways, including: movement, exploration, ability to interact socially, and the freedom to learn and grow without interference from others.
Structure and Order
On the surface, structure and order may seem at odds with the importance of freedom in the prepared environment. The prepared environment is meant to reflect the considerable structure and order of the real world and presents an organized system that children must learn to understand in order to make sense of their surroundings and, ultimately, the world. The ordered environment supports, children’s ability to reason and provides consistent opportunities for children to validate their expectations and interactions with the world around them in predictable and consistent ways.
The multi-age classroom groupings provide tremendous benefit to children as part of the prepared environment. Any number of benefits accrues to children as a result of learning within the Montessori social environment. The opportunity to be the youngest, middle and oldest student cohort over time affords children unique perspectives and experiences at each stage. At different times they receive help from older children or aspire to do things that older children do, they serve as role models or mentors for younger children and they have regular opportunities to develop compassion and empathy for others. In addition, children’s ability to work and play in a variety of group settings is explicitly supported by the social environment that is intentionally created as part of Montessori’s methodology.
The prepared environment ultimately aims to develop the whole child, not just the intellect, but intellectual development will not occur without the previous aspects of the environment in place. The above aspects of the prepared environment, coupled with the Montessori curriculum and unique Montessori materials, supports children in moving from simple to complex ideas and from concrete to abstract understanding and manages to do so in a way that is truly individualized and differentiated.