By Anna McLean – Preschool Deputy Principal
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
There is a lot of jargon associated with Montessori education and one such phrase is “The Prepared Environment.” Here are some of the considerations that are given to providing an environment that allows tamariki to engage with it.
Firstly, it is an environment that supports the freedom to move and explore. Tamariki choose an activity and take it to where they want to use it. It may be inside or outside. Once a child has been given a lesson they are free to explore the activity again and again until it is no longer calling to them or the skill has been mastered.
The mixed age group is a feature of a Montessori classroom. Tamariki are able to learn from their peers at their own pace and through their observation of how things operate within the class. The older tamariki are the role models and naturally provide support for the younger ones, as they too were supported when they first started.
The classroom is aesthetically beautiful with care and thought going into every item that is placed within the space. Natural materials are preferred such as wood, metal, glass, cotton as opposed to plastic. Everything has a place and activities are returned to the correct position on a shelf, complete and ready for the next person.
All the furniture is child-sized. Shelving within the environment is at a height which allows tamariki to independently use items without adult support.
Utensils are fit for purpose i.e. if tamariki cut up fruit they use a knife with a sharp edge. Plates and glasses break if they are dropped which is an opportunity to learn how to carefully clean up.
There is only one of each material. If tamariki choose to do an activity already in use, they have to wait until it is back on the shelf. This naturally supports the concept of patience.
Materials are complete. If a piece of equipment is broken or there are pieces missing, then it is removed from the shelf until it is fixed or parts replaced. Many of the Montessori materials in a preschool class have a “control of error” – the clue to the child that either it has been completed correctly or something isn’t quite right, thus supporting the repetition of the activity until the correct solution is found.
The outdoor environment is also prepared using the same principles. It is also a place to observe nature and take part in the practical activities associated with a garden.
Individually, you may see aspects of what has been discussed in other preschool environments but it is all of these aspects collectively that make the prepared environment a key part of Montessori philosophy.