Today I'm sharing some important points about the Prepared Environment by Meghan Hicks. Meghan is Montessori trained 0-18, she has worked in various Montessori schools, homeschools her two sons, tutors students privately, and is a Montessori teacher trainer/lecturer. Meghan has vast experience in Montessori homes and schools and this article is as equally relevant to teachers and guides in the classroom as it is to parents in the home. I hope you find it useful!
There are six principles to preparing the environment for the child, and they are all met through the exercises of practical life.
Our prepared environment must offer the child freedom of movement, freedom of choice of activity, freedom of exploration and freedom of social interaction. It is our work, to support the child in gaining and maintaining those freedoms for himself. Where he cannot advocate for himself, we must advocate for and protect his freedoms. Practical Life activities support the child’s self-advocacy because they instill in him a belief in himself and his capabilities. They free the child from unnecessary dependence upon the adult for self-care. “The teacher’s task is first to nourish and assist, to watch, encourage, guide, induce, rather than to interfere, prescribe, or restrict.” - Henry W Holmes, in the Introduction to The Montessori Method.
Structure and Order
Our prepared environment should provide structure and order, as well as being beautiful, simple and well-maintained. The child under three years of age is extraordinarily dependent upon the external order that we provide for them because they have not yet constructed their internal sense of order. They internalise the external order of the environment, and use it to make sense of their surroundings, and the wider world. Practical Life activities support this great need for order by presenting as ritualised sequences of movement, thought and planning that can be mastered in incremental steps to achieve a predictable outcome.
Beauty, Form, and Function
“The Montessori prepared environment exhibits reverence for the child and the beauty and order crucial for him to work at his natural, individual and optimal level.” - Michele Aspinall, Beauty is Everywhere a Welcome Guest. In The Secret of Childhood, Maria Montessori says, “The child should live in an environment of beauty.” (p218). At the earliest stage of life, the young child absorbs all the impressions they receive from their surroundings. Whatever we provide becomes incarnated in the child as part of their understanding of the world. If we provide Practical Life materials that are not only functional but also beautiful, then we help the child to enjoy and appreciate the work that they are engaging in. We take special care to remove anything that does meet the standards we hold for beauty, completeness, and functionality.
Reverence for Nature and the Need for Reality
"When children come into contact with nature, they reveal their strength.” - Maria Montessori, The Discovery of the Child. Very young children cannot learn from verbal explanations, or abstract representations of ideas. They learn through their senses, and their experiences in real life. Our prepared environment should follow the basic tenet that anything we introduce to the child should be real and concrete. All representational and abstract experiences can only be built onto a strong foundation of concrete sensory experiences within the real world. Practical Life activities should be no different, and if there is a chance to relate them to the care and enjoyment of the natural world, then even better. “There is no description, no image in any book that is capable of replacing the sight of real trees, and all the life to be found around them, in a real forest. Something emanates from those trees which speaks to the soul, something no book, no museum is capable of giving.” - Maria Montessori, From Childhood to Adolescence.
“We can see clearly what is necessary to give in order to help the child. It is to give the possibility of independence, of living together and carrying out social experiences.” - Maria Montessori, Citizen of the World. The sense of community we create for our very young children serves as the blueprint for all future interactions and relationships. Children are not interested in work which has no meaning. They are only truly satisfied by real work, for real reasons, which results in real outcomes within their personal community. The older the child, the more aware they will be of their impact on those around them, and the more deeply this responsibility to others will be felt. Even so, we should not underestimate the baby’s capacity for empathy, love and compassion. In service of self and others, the young child learns who he is, and how to find his place in the world. “No toys for children, but houses for them; not toys for them, but land on which they can work with small tools; not dolls for children, but real other children and a social life in which they can act for themselves.” - Education for a New World. Practical Life activities should always be founded in real work, making a real difference to the child’s family and community that can be felt and appreciated.
Cognition through Movement
“The children love to do these things [practical life activities] for themselves and they learn to be careful and precise in their movements. This is both education of movement, because there is a refinement of muscular co-ordination when the work is carefully done, and education through movement, because these activities involve judgement and will, self-discipline, and an appreciation of orderliness. We do not teach the children these things [practical life activities] to make little servants of them, but because we have observed that of their own accord children actually take the greatest interest in perfecting all the movements of daily life.” - Maria Montessori, Montessori Speaks to Parents. The child learns through doing. Practical Life activities are the embodiment of this premise. Every cognitive structure in our brains comes about as a result of movement. Every abstract or conceptual understanding we have, originated in action. Real work is learning. “Children develop their brains as well as their bodies through movement, and in the process of concentration, self-discipline, and perseverance with an active interest, the foundations of character are laid. To give our children a fine start in life we must see that their surroundings satisfy their need for activity and development, remembering at the same time that our own part is not that of instructor and interferer but of helper and friend.” - Maria Montessori, Montessori Speaks to Parents.