A central tenet of Montessori’s pedagogy and philosophy holds that children must be free to follow their natural interests, leading to opportunities to develop their potential and increasing their knowledge of the world. Within the prepared environment, the child must experience freedom in a number of ways, including: movement, exploration, ability to interact socially, and the freedom to learn and grow without interference from others.
On the surface, structure and order may seem at odds with the importance of freedom in the prepared environment. The prepared environment is meant to reflect the considerable structure and order of the real world and presents an organized system that children must learn to understand in order to make sense of their surroundings and, ultimately, the world. The ordered environment supports children’s ability to reason and provides consistent opportunities for children to validate their expectations and interactions with the world around them in predictable and consistent ways.
The multi-age classroom groupings provide tremendous benefit to children as part of the prepared environment. Any number of benefits accrues to children as a result of learning within the Montessori social environment. The opportunity to be the youngest, middle and oldest student cohort over time affords children unique perspectives and experiences at each stage. At different times they receive help from older children or aspire to do things that older children do, they serve as role models or mentors for younger children and they have regular opportunities to develop compassion and empathy for others. In addition, children’s ability to work and play in a variety of group settings is explicitly supported by the social environment that is intentionally created as part of Montessori’s methodology.
The prepared environment ultimately aims to develop the whole child, not just the intellect, but intellectual development will not occur without the previous aspects of the environment in place. The above aspects of the prepared environment, coupled with the Montessori curriculum and unique Montessori materials, supports children in moving from simple to complex ideas and from concrete to abstract understanding and manages to do so in a way that is truly individualized and differentiated.
The opportunities we give them to interact and develop a relationship with the natural world, will help them to develop tools for environmental responsibility and ecological understanding. With young children sometimes spending up to 50 hours per week in early childhood settings, early childhood educators have an important role. Opportunities for our young children to explore the wonders of plants, bushes, trees, flowers, and animals are diminishing. We have to give them time and places to explore and interact with nature before they can understand it well enough to want to look after it.
It is a lot to explain on a short school tour... and the purpose of this post is certainly not to overwhelm parents during the decision making process. Our goal is to impart a bit of this way of looking at the world of the child. They truly know their own child and can envision an environment in which he or she would thrive. We hope that in their time with us they feel just that, and experience a real sense of connection.