The Prepared Environment by Tara Israelson

Last night as I tidied my room I came across some old notebooks from when I first moved to Aotearoa New Zealand.  I began flipping through the pages and realized that the notebooks were the records of my first days, weeks and months in Nikau class as a brand new teacher.

It was a fascinating read – observations of children, the classroom, the routines and structures that I had walked into.  I noted EVERYTHING – what children were working on, what they might be ready for, what I needed to buy / make / change to create the classroom of my Montessori dreams.

At first I found it funny how detailed and specific I was about everything.  “Buy a beautiful basket for button sewing”, “Need a special tray for table scrubbing”, “Create enticing folders for maths papers”, etc.

As I continued to read I began to reflect on what it means to be a Montessori teacher and what it means to create the most perfect environment for learning.  I could not buy any old basket for button sewing; it had to be beautiful.  No ordinary tray would do for my table scrubbing; it needed to be special.  My display of maths papers needed to be enticing to the child.

My notes also included bits about the “flow” of the classroom – where children were bumping in to each other, which materials seemed hidden away, gaps in furniture that were leading to running through the classroom.  These notes all reminded me of what it takes to create a Montessori Prepared Environment.

The Montessori classroom is like a little laboratory for learning, a place set up so perfectly that the child has the freedom

to work, play and learn independently.  Everything in the classroom must be attractive and well-presented so that the children in the classroom want to use it.  This is where the “beautiful basket” and “special tray” come in.

Everything must also have a purpose, nothing superfluous or unnecessary to learning.  Our jugs and trays are made of glass because, while the direct purpose of a material may be for cleaning a table, an indirect purpose is to refine the movements of the hand.  How better to refine these movements than by being extremely careful with a fragile and precious object.  We often try to sneak in ways to make connections with other areas of the classroom, or the wider world.  The dish we keep our erasers in might be hexagonal or the beads in the sorting activity might be ovoid, cubic and cylindrical.

We put great effort into preparing the environment of our ‘learning laboratory’, with love and attention to detail, using what Montessori described as ‘real objects for real life’.  We move furniture to achieve the best classroom flow, we walk around the Warehouse and Farmers putting little jugs on little trays and then trying to find a cloth that matches, we op shop for the perfect wooden tray or a box shaped like a square-based pyramid.

This prepared environment, the lab your child works in, allows him / her to be successful independently in his / her learning journey.  This is our job as Montessori teachers and we love it – to give the child the keys to the world and stand back as they open the doors.

For more information on the Prepared Environment, check out Montessori Madness, a book by Trevor Eissler.