Prepared Environment

Key Components of the

Prepared Environment

We are the sowers – the children will be those who will reap. To labour that future generations may be better and nobler than we are – that is the task without egotism and without pride. Let us unite in this work..

– Dr. Maria Montessori

When you walk into a traditional childcare environment you might notice a few things. It is most likely lively, loud and cluttered with toys. However, when you walk into a Montessori classroom, you might notice something vastly different. It is most likely calm, quiet, and orderly. You might ask yourself, why are these two learning environments so different? The difference lies in something Dr. Maria Montessori referred to as the Prepared Environment.

Despite being peaceful and orderly, there is a great deal of movement and a great variety of activity within the Prepared Environment. Its design is to facilitate independent learning and free exploration.

Montessori education demands a different task of the adult than that of traditional approaches. They serve as the preparer and communicator of the environment to the child. They are also responsible for maintaining the atmosphere and order. The biggest difference is this: The child is not there to follow the adult. We are there, instead, to follow the child. 

What Exactly is the Prepared Environment?

Designed by Dr. Montessori, the Prepared Environment is a classroom management system. Instead of simply imparting knowledge, Dr. Montessori believed education should function as an aid to life.

The first aim of the prepared environment is, as far as it is possible, to render the growing child independent of the adult.

Dr. Maria Montessori, The Secret of Childhood

The tendency to order is a necessity of the mind of human beings. Order puts things in relation to one another so the mind can understand the information and use it to reason.

If the environment is too cluttered, it will hinder a child’s concentration. Cluttered schools and classrooms are easy traps to fall into. For this reason, adults need to be vigilant about establishing and maintaining order.

The prepared environment begins the moment a child is standing on the sidewalk outside of their school. From this point forward, all places, whether outside or inside the building, should be kept clean and organized. Everything within the environment should have a purpose.

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Key Components of the Prepared Environment

The prepared environment is one of the core components of the Montessori philosophy. According to Dr. Montessori, the learning environment, and everything the child comes into contact with, should foster independent learning. It should also appeal to our human tendency toward exploration.

Here are six reasons why the prepared environment is crucial to a Montessori program.

Through these limitations, we guide the child by adding clarity rather than clutter. 

1) Structure & Order

The tendency to order is a necessity of the mind of human beings. Order puts things in relation to one another so the mind can understand the information and use it to reason.

The idea behind order and structure is to reflect the order of our universe. By doing this, the child can internalize the order of his surroundings and is therefore able to begin making sense of the world around him.

The environment needs to be set up logically and in an organized fashion. Every environment should also be complete. A classroom should have all the manufactured and prepared materials. 

2) Beauty

Making the environment inviting for learning is crucial. The atmosphere, therefore, should be prepared beautifully and simplistically. It should evoke peace, tranquility and harmony. The learning environment should also be uncluttered and well-maintained.

The walls should be neat and orderly. This means children’s work is rarely hung on the wall. The minute we start hanging up children’s work, we end up either hurting the feelings of the children whose work is not hung up or hanging up everyone’s work. We try not to single out or isolate individual children.

3) Freedom

One of the main goals of a Montessori prepared environment is freedom of choice. This is achieved through giving the child freedom to explore, freedom of movement, freedom to interact socially, and freedom from interference of others (including adults!).

Meanwhile, adults will keep a close watch and correct them when needed.

4) A Social Learning Environment

The prepared environment should support social development by encouraging freedom of interaction. Montessori classrooms foster the development of a sense of compassion and empathy for others, thus causing children to be more socially aware.

5) Nature & Reality

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Dr. Montessori believed nature should be used to inspire children. Montessori guides take the children out into nature and use natural learning materials in the prepared environment regularly. These materials include real wood, metal, bamboo, cotton, and glass, rather than synthetics or plastics.

The materials should also be real and child-size, so the child is able to work with the materials on her own without frustration and without having to depend on adult for help with movement.

6) An Intellectual Environment

Once all of the above principles are met, Montessori educators will be able to reach children through the intellectual environment.

Why Adult Behavior Matters

Every adult within a school community serves as a role model to the children. This is why it is critical for every adult within a school environment to emphasize their own personal courtesy. 

For example, adults must be mindful of their movements when entering and exiting classrooms. Their footsteps and voices should be quiet and their movements should be done with ease and model grace. Children at the earliest stages of development are the most receptive to these modeled behaviors. What they see is what they do. 

The Prepared Environment is Culturally Responsive, too! 

Cultural responsiveness is ingrained and embedded within Dr. Montessori’s philosophy. Possessing some knowledge on the backgrounds and heritage of students in their classrooms, guides will prepare activities in culturally appropriate ways.

When a child is new, a guide might also choose to place out an artifact in the prepared environment from that child’s previous home. This will help child adapt to their new environment.

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For all these reasons, the prepared environment is a crucial component of Montessori philosophy. Within the environment, everything has a purpose and helps foster independence. This is achieved through structure and order, beauty, freedom, a social environment, nature and reality and an intellectual environment.

The Montessori guide should reason through everything placed in the prepared environment. They might ask themselves a series of questions: Why am I putting it there? Is it permanent or temporary? Is this a logical sequence? Are the charts hung at eye level? Are shorter things placed in front of taller things?  Can the children see and reach everything?

Every environment should reflect the personality of the Montessori Guide. But, there are some aspects that should always be consistent.

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Read More: Montessori Method:
It can be quite confusing to an outsider looking in.

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References and Read More:

Association Montessori Internationale

American Montessori Society

National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector

Montessori Childcare: The Importance of a Prepared Environment
By Silverline Montessori (N. Ruiz), September 2018

Reasons Why It Is Important to Set Limits With Kids
By Amy Morin, January 2021

*This blogpost was inspired by an AMI Montessori Training lecture, 2007.