María Montessori’s pedagogical work has been very influential for several decades worldwide, if you have young children or work with them, you surely have heard about a prepared environment. Montessori elementary schools or preschools have become more and more common and accessible. It’s also quite common for families that homeschool their children to apply Montessori principles on an everyday basis. In our own home, we’ve integrated Montessori practices and ideas while raising our daughters as well, especially while arranging their activity areas; furthermore, the notion of a “prepared environment” has been central for us while designing our children’s furniture.
“Play is the work of the child.”
So, today we’re going to talk a little about the basic Montessori concept of “prepared environment” and also about how you can apply it at your home for your children’s benefit.
We will be talking about the basic points of this Montessori concept, if you are interested to read more and in more depth about the Montessori method, you can easily find many resources on the net, for example at the Montessori Society UK site.
Alright, so let’s talk some Montessori basics!
Let’s start with a little bit of background: María Montessori was an extraordinary woman with a very sharp mind, and she used it to understand children “as they are.” For those of you that enjoy a little read before bed, I definitely recommend reading her biography!
She was the first female Italian doctor back in the early 20th century. From a scientific and medical perspective, she set out to understand how children learn and she eventually designed a school meant to appeal to children’s minds and behavior, taking into account their own developmental stages and natural curiosity. She stripped away all of the preconceived notions of how a school should be and created classrooms and activities based on her observations on children in their natural state. The schools created based on her work are now known as Montessori schools.
Getting to work
How did she do this? Well, as with all scientific work, thorough observation is the first step. Montessori became the director of the Orthophrenic School for developmentally disabled children in 1900. She developed and applied educational methodologies for those children and found very remarkable improvements in the students’ development. Her method was a very integral approach offering children a space where their disabilities would not be a burden of their learning experience.
A decade after and with the success of her work, she set out to use this methodology on children in general. Montessori was placed in charge of 60 impoverished young students from the slums, ranging in age from 1 to 6. The Casa dei Bambini school enabled Montessori to create the “prepared learning” environment she believed was conducive to sense learning and creative exploration and polish and expand what is now know as Montessori pedagogy.
A Prepared environment.
Montessori classrooms are referred to as a “prepared environment.” This means that these spaces are designed to have everything the children need to explore and learn in an independent manner. They are filled with low shelves for children to have easy access to the materials they need, furniture that is suited to their size, an ambiance that feels safe and fun, and beautiful materials to entice children to want to learn and work. Furthermore, prepared environments are made in such a way as to allow children to commence a learning activity on their own, but also to learn to clean up afterwards, because children’s learning process does not just switch off, on the contrary, as they put their materials back into their place, children learn to sort the coloring pencils they’ve just used to draw, the toys they’ve used, etc.
A home for everyone
If you think about it, a regular home is designed for adults: our furniture is made for our average height and strength, store things in the order we find useful, decorate our spaces with objects we find to be beautiful and place them at our line of sight. However, if our own space were designed with furniture for beings double our size, we would not find it easy to learn to use them or feel comfortable in that space. Likewise, a toddler needs help to get on an adult-sized chair in order to use a table to draw with crayons, but in a prepared environment chairs and tables are made in appropriate sizes for kids. This way, the child can dive into playing and therefore, has agency on her own development, without having to struggle with and environment that is not suited to their size and developmental stage.
This does a lot for a children’s basic self-esteem and for their cognitive development, the child is active and through practice, gets a better understanding of all sorts of tasks of daily life.
Why it matters
Creating a prepared environment for children allows them to be much more independent while engaging in play and learning activities and it promotes their agency. Instead of having the kid’s things high up, or stored away where they cannot see or reach them and that will therefore promote a “mommy I want to look at a book, give me one please” habit, by having their toys and materials at their own reach, if they want to look at a book they can go and grab it on their own. They learn where the things they want are, how to get to them, use them and then where to put them away once they are done.
Implementing in everyday life
This aspect of the Montessori method has been very influential because of its effectiveness in opening kids’ learning and living spaces to hands-on activities where children playing, developing and learning are at the center of it; and it’s not only applied in schools, but also in daycares and play spaces around the world. Creating a prepared environment at home is easy and can be done in many ways!
A brief and basic intro to some of Montessori’s ideas, we hope that you’ve found it interesting. We’ll go further into other Montessori notions in future posts, and we will also be talking about other child development and pedagogy notions that we’ve found inspiring and useful for our family and for the pieces we make. See you next time!