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Reflections on The Prepared Environment
Reflections on The Prepared Environment

I still vividly remember the first time I saw a Montessori classroom and the stunning effect it had on me. A Montessori classroom is more frequently referred to as the prepared environment, and this is because the classroom is really an additional teacher. The classroom set-up is the first thing that anyone will notice upon entering, we notice it as adults and take it all in as a whole, but get down on a child’s level and see it through their eyes and you will soon see that it’s all in the details.  The room, or environment, is carefully set up or prepared in a very specific manner to facilitate and promote learning of not only skills and concepts, but values and behavior as well. The phrase ‘prepared environment’ really means that the classroom is a well-thought out learning space, designed with the child in mind. The goal of the prepared environment is to foster independence in the child. The Montessori classroom feels like a home away from home, giving the child a sense of ownership of their classroom, as well as encouraging early literacy,numeracy and communication skills.  It’s important that the children love their class because if there is any one defining goal of early years education it is to create a positive first experience of school in order to nurture a sense of wonder, excitement and discovery that will open the door to higher learning in the future. So making the classroom a beautiful and positive place to be is super important, because who wants to be in a yucky place all day everyday!

Maria Montessori said, “The environment must be rich in motives which lend interest toactivity and invite the child to conduct his own experiences”. Creating this loving and nurturing environment is one of the most important tasks your child’s Montessori teacher will do. The environment is set up and designed on a specific set of principles premeditated so that the child has the maximum ability for learning and exploration. The six principles of the prepared environment are freedom, structure and order, beauty, nature and reality, social environment, and intellectual environment.


Freedom in the prepared environment involves freedom of movement,exploration, and social interaction. The teacher encourages in the children thefreedom to choose what activities they like to do. In the early stages of beingin a Montessori classroom this involves the teacher directly guiding the childuntil such a time when the child feels comfortable, confident and safe enoughin the environment to make their own choices about what activities they’d liketo do, how to change activities, whether to sit at a table or on a rug on thefloor. In Montessori schools teachers are often referred to as guides for thisvery reason. All of these mini-choices build confidence and foster independencein the child, skills that are critical for the child to be successful in theirlearning.

The Structure and order of the classroom facilitates the freedom of choice for the child,setting them up for success in any given activity by materials being easilyaccessible and having a set and logical place in the classroom. Materials areplaced on shelves and around the classroom so that they are easily accessible to the children. When finished an activity the child is responsible for the tidying up and returning of materials to their right and proper place. Children crave structure and order in the early years environment and quickly become invested in the upkeep and maintenance of the classroom. The structure and order of the Montessori classroom can be seen as a reflection of that which is found in the universe and allows the child to internalize the order around him and is able to draw conclusions of the world around him. A child in a Montessori classroom will quickly notice when something is out of place and beready to correct it.

The prepared environment should also be beautifulsimple, well maintained, and inviting to the learner. One of the first things one notices about the Montessori classroom is how beautiful and neat it is. Fostering asense of beauty in the classroom also fosters a sense of peace and calm in not just the children, but the teachers too! The beauty of the environment adds toits appeal to the child who will come to feel and safe and nurtured at school. Along with order and routine, creating a feeling of safety in the child is essential to their being comfortable at school an able to engage in learning.

Bringing Nature into the classroom inspires children and excites the young imagination. In Montessori classrooms natural materials are preferred to any others. Apart from being functional and orderly the class will have plants and often a pet or two that the children will help to look after. Reality is also important. Learning materials are ‘real’ materials that children may encounter outside of school. In the Practical Life area of the classroom for example, the children work with the kind of objects they might find in the adult world like dustpans for sweeping, and a sink for washing. All objects in the class will be real (not toys) and child-size, so that the child is actually able to use the materials and complete a task without frustration.

The prepared environment is also a social environment allowing the children freedom to interact through work and play with others. The freedom to choose one’s own work also develops in the child the ability to respect the choices of others, thus helping the child to develop empathy and compassion, and becoming socially aware.

Finally, the prepared environment is an intellectual environment, which is the culmination of the five preceding principles through which the whole personality of the child is developed. Once the child has become familiarized with their environment enough to move freely and safely about the class they begin to make choices based on their interests, skills and strengths. Once this begins to happen the children really begin to make their own decisions, discoveries and learning connections.

Without the preparation of the environment the child does not have an ordered place inwhich to begin this exploration. It sets order to the child’s world and opens up a place of discovery that is inviting and stimulating.

Which brings me back to the moment I first walked into a Montessori classroom, as a young educator, 16 years ago. I had worked in early childhood and elementary classrooms before and knew them to be a vibrant, loud hive of fun and activity. When I entered the Montessori classroom the thing that stunned me, and that I still remember vividly, was the silence. At first I thought there must be something wrong! But on closer inspection I could see that all the children were engagedin deep concentration in various activities throughout the classroom. There were children working individually with math materials on rugs on the floor. A small group of children were preparing and serving a snack to their friends in the Practical Life area. Another small group were cleaning up theirs. Another child was sitting at a desk tracing sandpaper letters and mouthing the sounds of the letters quietly to her self. Everywhere I looked the children were engaged and invested in their chosen activity. It was amazing! I quickly learned that all of this was possible through the work of the teacher in preparing the environment, where every detail, every material, decoration, piece of furniture, everything has a purpose and reason for being there. I do hope that other people will have the chance to have that first amazing experience of seeing a Montessori classroom in action for the first time, it really is something special to be hold.


Christian Williams is an accredited Montessori teacher with 16 years teaching experience in China. He also holds a Masters Degree in Education. He is a proud husband and father of two amazing boys. He is a strong believer in early childhood peace education.

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