One of the factors that contributed to the success of Montessori education was in Montessori’s scrutiny of the traditional educational environment. At that time, schoolrooms held adult-size furniture that was usually arranged in rows and bolted in place. Closets and shelves were placed at adult height so even the simplest of tasks had to be carried out by adults.
Montessori’s analysis led her to create schools that were truly suited for children. By adapting the environment and surroundings to the child’s size and nature, the Montessori classroom became a place where children could relax and learn. She had carpenters build child-sized tables and chairs which could easily be moved about without adult help. She also brought in rugs and mats because she’d observed that young children like to lie and work on the floor.
Learn more about what makes the perfect Montessori prepared environment, and how it helps children achieve success and joy in learning.
Montessori Prepared Environment: Purpose, Set-Up and Classroom Features
Montessori stated that young children process (absorb) everything through their senses. A well-prepared, child-centric environment is a sensorial one which reflects beauty, simplicity, and order. It provides well-chosen materials and activities which are required for learning. Everything is carefully chosen by the Montessori teacher in order to best facilitate the child’s learning. Unlike many overly-stimulating childcare centers which rely on the use of color, sound and movement, the Montessori classroom is designed to minimize things that may over-stimulate and distract. The Montessori classroom uses physical space and time that allows for concentration, design which allows children to find, use, and replace materials easily. Walls are painted in neutral colors. Shelves display a few objects at a time. This prepared environment provides a calm, neutral, quiet background that encourages and supports learning.
In a Montessori Infant/Toddler room, the prepared environment is very important. It is designed to meet these goals:
- Be attractive, welcoming, and conducive to learning
- Have a space large enough to accommodate all the children, providing them with free and comfortable movement
- Provide areas for all the activities each day
- Provide and store equipment for the personal care of young children
- Provide materials designed with a self-correcting control of error
- To allow the adults to view all the children and get to them quickly as necessary
Since Montessori infants and toddlers are not confined to playpens or carriers, it is important to have ample room (45-55 square feet) of open space per child. These spaces provide areas for children to develop their gross motor skills. It’s also important to have smaller, more confined areas for non-mobile infants, well-lit areas for reading, and quiet areas feeding and rocking infants.
The Montessori outdoor environment is prepared just as carefully as indoors. Since infants and toddlers are apt to put almost anything in their mouth, caregivers must survey the area regularly for any dangers. Outdoor areas require space for running, jumping, throwing, climbing, lying, sitting, balancing, watching, building, digging, playing with water, and exploring. It is not necessary to purchase expensive playground equipment for this age, though many Montessori outdoor spaces to have a sandbox. Ideally, there are a variety of hard and soft surfaces to meet the differing needs of children.
- Rocks for washing with water
- Fences for ‘painting’ with water
- Stone flagstones provide a path to follow
- Trees to sit under
- Wood chips
The goal of the prepared environment in the Montessori 3-6 classroom is to make the children feel comfortable and safe. It also teaches them that a prepared and organized environment saves time and helps them learn. The prepared environment also frees children to focus during periods of learning by keeping the environment free of clutter and distractions. The well-prepared 3-6 Montessori environment:
- Displays materials that are interesting, complete, and in working order
- Stimulates the interest of children, giving them a place to do things for themselves
- Accommodates the physical, social, and cognitive needs of children between the ages of 3-6
- Appeals to all five senses (taste, smell, touch, sight, and hearing)
- Allows children to correct themselves through their own experience
- Provides natural and real-life materials and activities as often as possible
- Encourages children to learn to the best of their abilities
- Gives children room to move and explore without disturbing others (approximately 35 square feet per child)
- Helps children gain confidence and independence by encouraging them to choose their own activities
Although each building and classroom is different, Montessori classrooms all have these features in common:
- Above all, order, cleanliness, and beauty
- Place for children to store personal items, such as coats and indoor shoes
- Place for children to store projects, both in-progress and completed works
- Plenty of open space to move around easily and comfortably
- Adequate open space to sit together during circle time
- Low shelves which form a variety of activity areas without closing off space or visibility
- Neutral-colored walls
- A few interesting, real-life pictures placed at the children’s eye level
- A hard floor surface that is easily cleaned
- Child sized tables and chairs which can be moved easily
- A few beautiful objects that break easily
- Variety in texture and color of furnishings
- Living plants
Because preparing the environment is such an important task, the Montessori teacher needs to become familiar with every detail of the classroom, and provide a well-prepared environment.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Wednesday, November 14, 2007.