“The first aim of the prepared environment is, as far as it is possible, to render the growing child independent of the adult. ”
Maria Montessori, The Secret of Childhood (267)
The Prepared Environment
The prepared environment is designed so that the child has the maximum ability for learning and exploration. The phrase ‘prepared environment’ refers to a well-thought out environment, classroom or home, designed with the child in mind. The goal of the prepared environment is to foster independence in the child.
The six principles of the prepared environment are freedom, structure and order, beauty, nature and reality, social environment, and intellectual environment.
Principles of a Prepared Environment
Freedom in the prepared environment involves freedom of movement, exploration, social interaction, and interference from others all of which lead to freedom of choice.
Structure and order reflects that which is found in the universe and allows the child to internalize the order around him and is able to draw conclusions of the world around him.
The prepared environment should also be beautiful, simple, well-maintained, and inviting to the learner.
Nature inspires children and natural materials are preferred to any others. Reality is also key. Objects should be real and child-size, so that the child is actually able to use the materials and complete a task without frustration.
The prepared environment is also a social environment allowing the children freedom to interact through work and play with others, developing empathy and compassion, and becoming socially aware.
Finally, the prepared environment is an intellectual environment which is the culmination of the five preceding principles through which the the whole personality of the child is developed.
The Importance of a Prepared Environment
Without the preparation of the environment the child does not have an ordered place in which to begin his exploration. This doesn’t mean that a child can’t or won’t learn, but the environment will not be carefully designed and suited to his growing abilities and needs. Having this prepared environment sets order to the child’s world and opens up a place of discovery that is inviting and stimulating.
Our Prepared Environment
One of the reasons why I love the concept of the prepared environment is that I can’t function in disorder. It’s really a personal thing. I’m very much an “everything has it’s place” type of person. When there’s a lot of clutter sitting around my house, I can become easily flustered because I don’t know what to do first or where something is and, for me, it can be a little overwhelming.
I know that I function best and am most productive in an environment that is prepared. When I know where my office supplies are, recent receipts, what’s for dinner, where the winter clothes are stored, etc.–so wouldn’t it make sense that a child is most productive in an environment prepared especially for them?
A Child’s Perspective
Just think for a moment from the perspective of a young child:
All your furniture is a foot or two over your head. You can’t reach the counter. You can’t even pour a cup of water for yourself, because both the refrigerator door and water pitcher are too heavy. Never mind reaching the glass in the cupboard. You can’t climb into bed yourself, you have to be carried or hop up a few steps. While eating your chin barely makes it above the table and while the couch looks inviting for a little tot it’s no easy task. Even your clothes are out of reach, hanging in the closet or in dresser drawers out of reach.
A prepared environment for a child not only enables them to be more productive in their learning and exploration, but tells the child that are important. Their needs and abilities have been taken into consideration and they live and work in a place where they can succeed, not only in their scholastic endeavors but in those activities that are practical to everyday life!
I’ve shared how we have arranged our home, room by room, to be a prepared environment for our two boys. There is no black and white. Please keep in mind that what works for our family may not work for yours. A prepared environment will differ with each family based on the child’s own needs and development as well as family practices and the home itself.
How do you incorporate the ideas of a prepared environment in your home?
Looking for more on the prepared environment?
The Kitchen & Bathroom
The Child’s Room
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Montessori - The Prepared Environment
Part seven of a nine part series of Montessori Parent Education Newsletters… By Lynn Belmonte, associate principal, Hammer Montessori
In this edition of the Hammer Montessori Learning Magnet Parent Education Letter you will gain more knowledge of the various activities found in the Montessori classroom.
One of the key components of the Montessori classroom is the prepared environment. The teacher in the classroom has extensively prepared the classroom for the children. The teacher is also expected to be a model of exemplary behavior and social skills for the children. Montessori teacher training is extensive and involves course work, readings, and an internship in a Montessori classroom.
There are many unique qualities to a Montessori environment. Qualities include a variety of lesson formats (listed below), freedom within limits, choice on the student’s part, peacefulness, and the ability (and encouragement) to repeat exercises. A variety of lesson formats allows the student to more actively participate in the lesson. By giving one on one lessons or small group lessons, the teacher is able to more quickly determine the child’s understanding of the concept. Within a Montessori environment, the teacher prepares the room and material so that students have a variety of work from which to choose. Activities that encourage peace and tranquility are made available. Many classrooms have a peace corner where children may go to reflect. Activities that encourage the child to learn stillness and silence are performed. Leaning to carry materials with care, control one’s body, and to know when to be quiet or silent all add to the beautiful quality of the Montessori prepared environment.
Lessons are given in three formats:
- Class presentations: meetings, games, music, movement, stories, and poetry
- Small group lessons: small groups of children gather for a common lesson
- Individual lessons:tutorial, remedial and accelerated work
The classroom is comprised of several different areas:
The practical life activities meet the internal need a child has for organization. At every level, the practical life area helps the child to learn more about the environment and how to interact with the environment. Life skills, grace and courtesy, care of self, and care of the environment are examined in practical life. Examples of practical life activities include:
- Life Skills – Pouring, sorting, cooking, bead stringing, paper cutting
- Grace and Courtesy – Offering food to a friend, asking for help, setting a table, hanging up a coat or backpack
- Care of Self – blowing the nose, clipping nails, using dressing frames to learn how to zipper, button, lace and tie… (pictured above)
- Care of the environment – table scrubbing, polishing (silver, shoe, wood)
Activities in the sensorial area include the pink tower (cubes), brown stair (rectangular prisms), knobbed cylinders (shown below), red rods, color tablets, weight tablets, smelling jars, tasting jars, Montessori bells, and geometry. In this area of the classroom the child works independently or with a friend to explore the relationship of items in the environment. The child is shown the material and then has many opportunities to repeat the exercises themselves. The child is introduced to concepts such as weight, height, heaviest, lightest, darkest, sweet, sour, smooth, and rough.
The language area of the classroom assists the child in learning how language functions. Children begin by matching pictures (flowers, animals…) to increase their skill of discrimination. Eventually the child begins to discriminate letter shapes and letter sounds. Reading is taught phonetically, starting with objects and pictures. The child begins to learn what sound they hear at the beginning of the words. The child likes to manipulate the objects or pictures. Children begin sound lessons, which are individual. The teacher shows the child how to trace a letter made of sandpaper while hearing the sound the letter makes. From sound work the child builds words using a moveable alphabet. Individual alphabet pieces allow the child to create phonetic words readily (mat, cut, sit…). Phonetic reading books are introduced when the child is ready and the students also listen to stories read by the teacher. The child also learns sight words in a variety of lessons.
Another component of Montessori language is grammar. Children are introduced to grammar after obtaining a certain level of confidence with reading. Each part of speech is matched with a symbol. The child learns to connect the grammar symbol with the part of speech, thereby giving the child one more way to remember parts of speech.
Writing (mechanical and creative) is taught in the language area. Metal insets increase the child’s small motor coordination and prepare the hand for writing. Mechanical writing is taught by grouping like letters together. For example, letters like 0 and a are taught together because 0 is the basic handwriting shape and you make the same shape, but add a connected line to make the letter a.
The mathematics area of the classroom covers numeration, math operations and facts. The child is introduced to concepts in math, such as addition. Then through a series of different exercises using manipulatives, the child practices and masters each mathematical concept or skill. After introducing a concept, the child works on memorizing facts. The child is exposed to many different pieces of material including golden beads, stamp game, small and large bead frame. With each successive material and lesson, the child moves from very concrete (hands on) work to more abstract work. A kindergarten child can often add large operation problems (2361 + 1423) because they have materials that help them solve the problem. Receiving individual lessons allows the child to work at their own pace and progress, as they are ready. Independent work follows lessons and students have an opportunity to practice until the concept is understood. There is a large variety of fact work for the child to practice. Dr. Montessori created a series of fact charts for each operation (addition, multiplication, subtraction and division) to assist the child in memorizing their facts.
Montessori Mathematics comprises the following:
- Operation work – Key here is introducing the child to concepts such as addition using a variety of Montessori materials. The material gets progressively less manipulative as the children lean to solve more problems in their heads.
- Factual work – Materials (like the addition chart shown below) provide an opportunity for the child to practice their facts quickly. Fact work is typically performed with one digit numbers (4 + 5). Like operation work, the fact work starts out with material that the child can move and progresses toward material that is non-moveable.
- Numeration – The study of numbers and their meaning. In the Montessori environment we have a beautiful bead cabinet. The children are shown the bead chains initially and learn to count. Later, the child learns how square numbers and cubes are created by manipulating the chains. Children also learn about numbers and their value from the red and blue rods, the spindle box, cards and counters and more.
- Geometry – at the 3-6 age level, geometry is part of the sensorial area of the classroom. In the elementary classroom, geometry joins the math area. The child is introduced to solid and plane geometric shapes, the names of shapes, and to the study of geometry.
Montessori classrooms include a cultural area where the children study cultures (how and where people live) around the world. The children use beautiful globes and maps to learn geography and the location of capitols, rivers, and mountains and then associate culture with the various geographic areas. Children study landforms and how those landforms originated, and how the landforms impact daily living. As children acquire the geography skills necessary to understand the Earth, they want to know what everything is.
We use this natural curiosity to introduce the child to a plethora of new vocabulary. The young child also learns concepts of the whole and then the parts. For example, we introduce a bird to the child. We typically have a bird in the classroom so the child can observe the bird, and then we introduce the parts (beak, eyes, wing…) of a bird. Eventually the child will progress from external parts of animals to internal parts of animals. At the elementary level the child is curious about how they fit in the global scheme. The cultural studies seek to help the child answer their own questions about the world and their place in the world.
Hammer Montessori Learning Magnet | San Jose Unified School District
Hammer Montessori is a Public Montessori Magnet Elementary School within the San Jose Unified School District. At Hammer Montessori, instruction is conducted with each individual child in mind. As a child centered/directed approach to education, the Montessori classroom is developed under the philosophy that all children are able to learn, and perhaps more importantly, all children want to learn.
For more information on public Montessori education within the San Jose Unified School District, please contact the Hammer Montessori office at (408) 535-6671 or visit the schools Website at http://www.sjusd.org/hammer/.
Parts of this document were reprinted from P.E.N to Paper, Ingrid Weland