Dr. Montessori’s scientific research led her to discover a System of Education in which the roles of both the teacher and the student are changed. She designed a different environment which became a new third factor in the teaching/learning equation.
In this carefully Prepared Environment, the teacher stops being a tyrant and becomes a Guide. She becomes a dynamic link between the children and the developmentally appropriate materials that make it possible for them to educate themselves. Here each child is able to develop and learn at his or her own individual pace, through purposeful activities with the classified materials that are available to him in this unique Prepared Environment.
Dr. Montessori described her Prepared Environment as “a place where a child could be nourished for its design meets his needs for self-construction and helps him to reveal his personality and growth patterns to us.”
The Eight Key Elements of the Montessori Prepared Environment are:
Freedom and discipline
Freedom within the context of respect for the rights of others allows the child to reveal himself to us and makes it possible for the Guide to observe and respond to the child’s inner guide which directs the child’s growth.
Structure and Order
The materials are classified, ordered and sequenced according to the child’s stages of development and the particular interests or skills they are designed to serve. This orderly environment provides the child with a sense of security. He soon learns to trust his environment and to interact creatively with it.
Reality and Nature
Everything in the classroom is designed to bring the child into closer contact with reality: tables and chairs are child sized and lightweight. The practical life materials are all real and they function the way they are supposed to. Real food is prepared and served. The child who “still belongs to nature” learns about nature in a creative way by caring for plants and animals.
Simplicity and Beauty
Simplicity of design and fine workmanship are essential qualities of the materials used in the classroom. These beautifully crafted, brightly colored materials invite the child to take them into his hands and to use them. Montessori also spoke of the teacher as beautiful, clean, neatly dressed and sweet-smelling.
The Montessori Materials
The role of the Montessori materials is often over-emphasized. Their very purpose is often misunderstood. They do not have an external aim of developing skills or teaching concepts to children who use them properly. The materials have an inner purpose, to assist the child in his own self-construction and in his physical, psychological, intellectual and social development.
The materials provide the stimulus which captures the child’s imagination and helps him to initiate and expand the process of concentration. This means that, if the materials are to be effective, they must be properly presented to the child at the right moment in his development.
Because the Montessori classroom is composed of children from several age groups (3-6, 6-9, 9-12, 12-15) who stay in the class for three years, there are always older peers in the classroom who have a positive influence upon the younger children. The normalized children often serve as peer tutors and are good role models for the younger children who admire them and want to emulate them.
Recent arrivals are quick to note the relationship of mutual trust and respect between the Guide and the normalized children and they soon seek to establish the same relationship for themselves as well.
Normalized children help to create the quiet and tranquil learning environment in which both they and their classmates are able to concentrate fully upon their chosen tasks.
Responsible Life in Community
The children soon learn that this classroom belongs to them and they gladly accept responsibility for the orderly care and maintenance of the prepared environment.
A keen sense of community life emerges as children take responsibility for their own behavior through the sharing of Grace and Courtesy Lessons and through their imitation of the behavior of their older, normalized peers and of the teacher.
Life in community is also enhanced by the presence of children of different ages and of both sexes in the class, just like the real world, where people of different ages and both sexes live and work together.
This community promotes mutual respect, shared responsibility, civic collaboration, social well being, solicitous concern for one another, true friendship and great affection for other classmates and for the Guide.