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The prepared environment of the Montessori classroom includes six basic components: freedom, structure and order, reality and nature, beauty and atmosphere, the Montessori materials, and the development of community life.
The element of freedom in a Montessori classroom is essential. Freedom does not mean a lack of structure. A child is given freedom within certain guidelines. These established guidelines ensure the child’s development of his own independence, will, and inner discipline; thus establishing freedom. Well prepared activities that a child may choose on his own with opportunities for constructive work is one way in which freedom is established. Helping a child to develop a clear understanding of good and evil allows the child freedom within social situations to choose whom he would like to work with and to solve conflicts with his peers. It is important to note that only the destructive acts of a child are to be limited. “Discipline must come through liberty…If discipline is founded upon liberty, the discipline itself must necessarily be active” (Montessori Method, Montessori, p. 86). Freedom allows movement by the child within an indoor environment as well as an outdoor environment if at all possible. A teacher’s role in establishing freedom is to protect the child’s ability to choose. Lessons should be brief so as not to interrupt the work cycle. Teacher directed competitions, rewards, and punishments will interfere with a child’s freedom and so are not a part of a Montessori classroom. As Dr. Montessori stated, “Such prizes and punishments are…instruments of slavery for the spirit…The prize and punishment are incentives toward unnatural or forced effort, and therefore we certainly cannot speak of the natural development of the child in connection with them” (Montessori Method, Montessori, p. 21).
“Such prizes and punishments are…instruments of slavery for the spirit…The prize and punishment are incentives toward unnatural or forced effort, and therefore we certainly cannot speak of the natural development of the child in connection with them”
The second component of the prepared environment is structure and order. For a child to internalize his own structure and order, it must be very apparent in the classroom. Materials are in their proper places, grouped according to area and arranged in sequence as to their degree of difficulty or complication. All of the materials should be in good repair with nothing broken or missing.
Reality and nature is the third component. Items in the classroom should be authentic and made from nature. For example, the use of wood, metal, and glass is ideal in setting up the classroom. In most situations, one item or material should be available for student use. Waiting to use a material encourages patience and allows the child to develop his grace and courtesy skills. “The child comes to see that he must respect the work of others, not because someone said he must, but because this is the reality he meets in his daily experiences” (The Absorbent Mind, Montessori, p. 165). Nature is a vital part of the classroom, not only in the materials used but in caring for live plants and animals as well.
“The child comes to see that he must respect the work of others, not because someone said he must, but because this is the reality he meets in his daily experiences” ~Maria Montessori
The fourth component is beauty and atmosphere. The classroom should be an inviting place that is based on simplicity, good design, and quality. It should be bright, cheerful, and harmoniously arranged. The atmosphere is relaxing, warm, and invites participation. Teachers must be cautious of clutter by not allowing it to be in the classroom.
Materials are the fifth component. Montessori designed her materials with careful precision and accuracy. Each material carries a particular purpose in allowing the child to learn in a concrete manner that will eventually lead him to the abstract. “Their aim is an internal one of assisting the child’s self-construction and psychic development” (Montessori: A Modern Approach, Lillard, p. 60). The materials are simple, yet inviting. They should entice the child to want to receive lessons in their use so that he may develop his independence in using them.
“Their aim is an internal one of assisting the child’s self-construction and psychic development” ~Maria Montessori
The final component is community life. In looking at the whole child, his place in a community cannot be ignored. It is this aspect of the prepared environment that gives the child his sense of ownership and responsibility. Once a child has taken ownership of his environment, he will seek to maintain its order and care. Community life also includes a child’s relations with other members of the classroom. Because of the multiple ages within the class, children take on different roles of helping others, interacting socially, solving conflicts, and acting as role models.
The prepared environment is the teacher’s responsibility to establish and maintain. However, as the children begin to take ownership of their own learning and to take responsibility of the world around them, it truly becomes the students’ environment. It is one in which they will thrive academically, socially, and personally as they continue their journey into adulthood.