“A felicitous environment that guides the children and offers them the means to exercise their own faculties permits the teacher to absent herself temporarily. The creation of such an environment is already the realisation of great progress.” – Maria Montessori, The Child in the Family, Page 46
Across the animal kingdom, we see animals prepare environments for their young and these environments are very specific to the needs of those young. We can think of nests in a tree, the material that the nests are made of the location within the tree for safety. Think of a honeycomb. The cells in the honeycomb are perfect to support the life of the larva of the bee until it matures. We think of prepared environments as spaces that are designed to nurture and protect growth, and this is what needed for the perfect prepared environment.
Montessori Prepared Environment is a unique idea. It takes into account physical, psychological, intellectual, spiritual needs of whatever group of children comes and provide them precise help to address their needs. It also recognizes the ability of that age group. Prepared environment is the environment for particular age group. This environment allows manifestations of these powers to maximum for the natural development to occur. By fulfilling inner urges in this environment human being contributes to a larger goal. Adaptation happens through work by using intelligence. The intelligence, ability and need for work along with the connection to the environment, these are natural states for human being. A living environment where we work and show our ability, has been so natural for us to flourish. The changing environment is constant, the need and ability to adapt is also constant. We adapt by physically exerting ourselves. In this process of adaptation, the intellectual, emotional, physical ability of human being have to find expression. Environment plays crucial role in adaptation to happen all these.
Why is it called as prepared environment? The environment which brings development is called as prepared environment. For human being, we adapt after we are born, so we heavily rely on child to make that adaptation. The very first prepared environment for the child is the home and from the ages of zero to three this is the best place for the child to be, surrounded by family, culture, going out into the world, observing movement, and adapting to life. But around the age of three, that important shift happens in the absorbent mind where we are moving from that unconscious functioning to more of a conscious functioning absorbent mind and this child is now very intentional explorer of his environment. The home is no longer the optimum place for the child. Dr. Montessori described the home through the eyes of a three-year-old as it being a place for giants.
The counters are too tall, the furniture is too large, the utensils are too heavy. It is full of obstacles for the child who is trying to do for themselves, trying to be independent, but they’re in an environment that is far too large for them. The routines in the home can often be too rushed and when a child is building that independence, they need the time to go slow, to repeat, to make mistakes until they reach the satisfaction that they’re looking for. Dr. Montessori realized that the child of three to six required a specifically prepared environment to support them in reaching their potential. Environment has to change age from one plane to another. Conducive environment facilitates growth and development while on the other hand harmful environment that is not prepared can hinder development and can bring atypical behaviour.
Characteristics of Prepared Environment of any age group:
Mixed Age Group: in this environment children are not divided as per the age within that plane or sub-plane. For second sub phase of first plane from 3- to 6- years, it is called vertical age grouping. Here there will be diversities which boost learning and social capacities. These older and younger children together work and study, here elder children help younger children. They learn to help, socialize, and will also earn to live with differences. They understand the needs of other, their tendencies explore. In this mixed age group, they have same powers.
“When we think about mixed ages, we must make sure we aren’t starving children intellectually or physically … we should not have a supermarket, but just what is essential.” – The Discovery of the Child, Page 152
Developmental Tools: as we know adaptation happens through work and performing work. Children of any plane of development adapt if they get proper conducive environment. And this environment becomes wider as per the age. Depending upon plane of development, a prepared environment includes activities which relates to whatever level the child needs to in the world and they find purpose in it. These activities are purposeful and relevant to age group. Sensitivities also brings attraction to work and this helps in first plane of development. In first plane of development, they explore to physical activity, language development. Immediate environment they get at this plane, they work and connection with environment also strengthen. But for a second plane child, they require wider environment, they need the environment where everything is included. They explore world, mathematics, universe. In third plane, activities should help them to prepare adult life so, it will be totally different.
“The first aim of the prepared environment is, as far as it is possible, to render the growing child independent of the adult.” – The Secret of Childhood, Page 267
Trained Adult: creating and maintaining is the responsibility of the adult. Adult is a stable person just the link between child and environment. She should be trained and have knowledge on how to train these children in various planes of development. They need to establish contact with children. The adult should have practised with the developmental tools and helps the child to establish contact with others. Observing the child is very important for the adult and assess individual needs of every child. The adult has to maintain records of the observations. Adult has to maintain relationship with parents and speak for the child in wider community to educate the society about needs of the child.
“We must, therefore, quit our roles as jailers and instead take care to prepare an environment in which we do as little as possible to exhaust the child with our surveillance and instruction.” – The Child in the Family, Page 127
Order: Order is a human need which means that when there is order human qualities flourish. Through order human beings have built security and therefore possibility for exploration. Order in the prepared environment vary according to planes of development. For a fist plane child relates to routine, people in environment, physical order, things kept in proper order. Order they find in physical world, they built it in their mind. For a second plane child, they don’t need physical order, they need order for social life. They also look to understand order in universe. They explore the order of world. In the third plane, the young adults, they need stability and people around them, the way people respond around them. The response from adult provides them security and they need that.
Freedom within limits: We want these children to work to fulfill their own needs. In the process, they will find activities which interest them, challenge them and they will go on to repeat them achieving concentration becoming happy, joy and stable. These activities fulfill their inner urges. Only when they are able to choose it with freedom, they are able to pay attention to their inner voice. If there is no opportunity to repeat or choose, these processes will not complete. There are many levels of freedom in learning environment. In this Montessori Prepared Environment, each child has freedom and they do not conflict with other. There are limits to these freedom – we don’t hurt other. We care for the materials, misuse, or throw it. They are taught to keep material back as winding up after activity. We don’t disturb another child when he works. When they work in group, they have agreement on how to speak with others. The trick is that not to have too many limits. Setting of these limits also changes with over a period of time. They change over the planes of development. In second plane of development, child decides by own. Adult is there just to facilitate them. Children demonstrate high level of discipline. True inner discipline comes where there is freedom.
Foster Independence: independence is achieved at successive level through the planes of development. The conquest of independence that happens in one plane makes way for the second plane. Environment should be ready to support. Independence achieved in first plane help to explore in second plane of development. Environment should recognize what child has achieved and further what he wants to achieve. This is possible only with active actual experience. In prepared environment, when they come, children are encouraged to think about their needs and group, they choose work, they feed themselves, they help each other. Therefore, independence is achieved by their own efforts.
The Physical Environment for the 3-6 year old (Casa):
We are aware that the age of 0 to 3 years is period of creation and now the age of 3 to 6 is period of consolidation. This child is looking to strengthen his will and use his acquisition in connection with will and intelligence. In addition to this condition, every child will be different because between 0 to 3 they might have different environment. Here in casa, they work for natural development. For this to achieve, we need prepared environment. Completion of personality cannot be happened without this. They work with hand, mind, intelligence, and love for environment.
Main Room / Living Room:
It should be spacious room where children work a lot. It should be well lit. it should accommodate ideally 30 to 35 children. Room has to have enough wall space with good painting and space to put picture. There should be windows for visual access for outdoors. Rooms can be connected for more than one environment. Floors should be with light colour. Rooms should be neat and clean. Avoid carpeting in the floor. Montessori prepared environment is based on reality, and this is the reason why we encourage classrooms to have hard floors. Hard floors allow for natural consequences. Room temperature should be maintained.
Dr. Montessori was the first person to use child-sized furniture in an environment like this and what she realized was that when she used child-sized items and furniture the child could act in the environment and the environment could respond to them. So, think of child-sized tables, chairs, shelves. Floor mats of different size and we need chowki for the activities. It is ideal if not more than two children work on a table. Chowki of different size can be used and should be light enough so that they carry by themselves. Noise control bushes should not be used. Surfaces of tables, chowki and mat should be light coloured if possible. Tables and chairs should be arranged in such a way that there should be open space to do activity but not too much open space. Child size shelf should be kept. Materials should be kept in proper order from top to bottom and left to right with varying difficulty. We rarely have room for Montessori adult or separate chair for Montessori Adult.
We also have to take in account the four areas of work in Montessori environment – Activities of Practical Life, Sensorial, Language and Mathematics. It through work children engages in these purposeful activities.
Practical life as the name suggests are the activities of daily life where children learn to take care of self, environment. These activities help them achieve independence, co-ordination, concentration. These activities are most familiar to child.
Sensorial Area have activities for sensorial development. Activities in this area help the child in development of visual, auditory, Tactile, olfaction and taste.
Language materials helps the child to consolidate language acquisition which he has laid in first three year, vocabulary is enriched and enlarged and the child explores speaking, reading, writing.
Mathematics helps child to understand world. Explore their world through mathematics. They learn concept of number, quantity, and operation such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.
No matter what area they work, Materials are in order and clean. Environment is setup to look beautiful, warm, and inviting. We want artwork hung low at the child’s eye height. We have indoor plants; these are great opportunities for the children to care for the leaves and tend to the plants. It should be their job to water them, too. This builds the sense of responsibility. And sense of responsibility is also constructed when we have classroom pets. Classroom pets are a lot of fun, they can be a fish or a cat. This allows the children a role in caring for that pet. It builds responsibility, but it also develops compassion and empathy. We keep materials in set together wherever needed. We replace supplies and there should be access to these supplies to child.
We have fragile objects such as jugs, glass, vases, sculptor. These are the things they handle and care, with this their movement develops. They are not dependent on adult. Environment and materials become the teacher.
In the Casa, access to water has to be ensured not just for work purpose but also for the child to do washing and cleaning activities without depending on others. Low sink and step stool to reach the sink is necessary so that the child is able to reach the water.
Cloak Room Space:
Every Casa should have a space to leave their things, their own belongings, bags, umbrella, raincoats, etc. There should be an indication mark for the child so that he knows what this room is for. This space is used for keeping foot ware, jackets, bags, etc and there has to be an order followed. This space can be a part of lobby or a corridor. They can use indoor shoes or no footwear inside the room.
Toilet should be prepared with utmost care and as much thought should be put here as much as in living room. The door should be open up from slightly. The look inside should be simple. Toilet should be 24 x 7 neat and clean and adult should take active part to keep clean and child should feel independence and safe. There should be child size chair to sit and remove their clothes before going to toilet and there should be hooks to put these clothes. Everything should be of Childs height .ie. wash-basin, mirrors, table,etc.
There should be an outside space for children. Everyone in casa should take care of plants inside and outside. Children can also play outside, periodic visit to garden, harvesting, collecting leaves, cleaning dried leaves. Childs connection with nature is very essential. It helps in the child development to consolidate his movements. For example: watching a plant grow, watching ants moving. The adult has to plan about how the child is going to have access to outdoor environment.
Prepared environment removes conflicts between adult and children. The Prepared Environment gives the child the opportunity to connect with the process of normalisation, it is a holistic environment to integrate psychic and physical needs, to encourage a strong personality able to contribute to her own development and the society and order and beauty of her environment through her will, choices and independence. The prepared environment not only contains materials and activities to perfect movement, co ordination, and to act on tendencies but also a community of learners who can offer help or be kindly aided and an adult to model problem solving, social ease, gracefulness, precision, love and security, to inspire to confidence of parents and infants. Prepared environment makes a child peace loving and peace giving.
“The environment itself will teach the child, if every error he makes is manifest to him, without the intervention of a parent or teacher, who should remain a quiet observer of all that happens.” – The Child in the Family, Page 28
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