The Prepared Environment
The Prepared Environment is a crucial part of the child's education in the classroom. When the child enters the Montessori nursery school, she/he will enter an environment that is carefully prepared and caters to his/her needs. The prepared environment allows the child to develop without constant assistance and supervision from an adult. All the furniture and work materials are child-sized, giving the child full freedom to move-about and explore. This also allows the child to be more active and the Directress/Teacher more passive. The environment does not contain any objects that the child may not use or that hinders his development, nor it contains any materials that are broken or incomplete. The work-material is kept out on the shelves and may be used by the child whenever he/she desires. Because the materials are always stored in the same place, the child can always locate them. It is part of the child's work-cycle to return used material to its designated place in the classroom, so that others may use it. As part of the Practical Life activities, the children learn to keep their environment in order and generally clean and tidy. This also fulfills the child's innate Sensitive Period for Order. One of the main duties of the Montessori teacher is to keep the prepared environment in perfect, orderly condition.
Dr. Montessori observed that the children achieved an integration of self through their work. First, the child’s cycle of repetition, concentration, and satisfaction would begin. This cycle would lead to a development of inner discipline, self-assurance, and preference for purposeful activity. Dr. Montessori called this process of psychic integration "normalization." It appeared to be the "normal state of the child." Normalization occurs through the child’s concentration and application to his or her work. An interesting activity, freely chosen, which has the virtue of inducing concentration, adds to the child’s energies and mental capacities and leads the child to self-mastery. The essential element is for the task to arouse such an interest that it engages the child’s entire personality.
Characteristics of the "normalized child" include:
The Montessori environment contains specially designed, manipulative "materials for development" that invite children to engage in learning activities of their own individual choice. Under the guidance of a trained teacher, children in a Montessori classroom learn by making discoveries with the materials, cultivating concentration, motivation, self-discipline, and a love of learning.In Montessori there are no tests, just opportunities to master a new skill and move up to the next challenge.
The classrooms are multi-age so that a child can teach their skills to other children, reinforcing their previous skills and revisiting their successes, improving communication, and social skills. The children learn to associate with older and younger peers without division. They learn to guide and care for their community. The children are free to select the work they want to try next and are free to move about and socialize with others.
Possibly the most beautiful aspect of a Montessori classroom is that the self-paced, purposeful, self-correcting work is enjoyable for everyone from the learning-challenged to the gifted alike. The children work independently so no single child holds back another or spoils the discovery for all by bursting out an answer. This allows a gifted child to be a peer and not an outcast, or a disabled child to be a friend and not a subject of pity.
No two children learn at the same rate. When a child compared critically to another, pride and self-worth is eroded and taken from them. There is always someone better and it is inevitable that they will not be the best. Why do that to them? Why not give them a goal and rejoice with them when they achieve it? This is the heart of a Montessori classroom.