The Prepared Environment is both a physical space and the intangible properties necessary for an organism to thrive, reach and fulfil it’s physical, spiritual, emotional and psychical potentials. For the human, assuming it’s mother is healthy, the womb provides a perfect prepared environment, where it’s body and senses of movement and hearing can begin developing, after birth the baby enters the Supra Environment, it’s home, from now on, it is the adult carers responsibility to provide the absorbent mind with the facilities to follow the child’s ‘inner voice’ which will help her to fulfil her needs by acting on her tendencies and potentials during the sensitive periods. To meet the requirements of the different sensitive periods and changeable characteristics of the needs for ‘independence’ and ‘freedom’ the Supra Environment will need to correspond to the child’s level of development.
From birth to three the home is the main prepared environment with some children attending the Nido at 3 months and specialised toddler centres, after 2.5 years the Children’ House or Primary classroom, complements the child’s home as a place to learn about the whole world, till the child is 6 when the Elementary Classroom presents the universe in miniature to the child, at 12 years the child moves to the Erdkinder, a rural community where she boards, and begins to live economically and technologically outside of her parents world. Depending on the 18 year old the university, spiritual retreat centre, travelling and meeting like minded people provide the young adult with many opportunities for the valorised adolescent to find her place in the world.
Each prepared environment meets the growing individuals needs for space and freedom, for the infant to move safely, for the adolescent to think on her own; the need to be part of a community, with people of similar, but no exactly the same, age, needs, inspirations, they are places to work, where real developmental activities provide opportunities to rehearse techniques, interactions, theories and strategies and once mastered the need socially adapt to and contribute to the learning needs of others in their community. The Prepared Environment should also meet needs for beauty and order. Having these needs met strengthens the will, the activity and pace of it are managed by the developing individual and she can feel her power but also she is not alone but her need for help is met through a trained adult, who knows when assistance is needed and how it is best given and special tools and training materials, at the right level for understanding and use. The work of the child is for their own self-construction and to contribute to the construction of a community of learners, the whole process of learning is made tangible and structured which allows for beauty and order in the physical and social environment; creation of an environment which reflects reality and gives an experience of and expectation for harmonious integration.
The Prepared Environment of the Children’s House
The tangible environment relates to the time given to work, ideally an unstructured 3 hour period, space to enjoy movement and make choices freely. The building itself should be located near to the child’s home in a quiet, safe, hygienic area. The Living room is ideally an octagonal shape, with light furniture, sufficient mats and tables and chairs appropriate to the child’s size, the shelves and materials arranged in an accessible way, decorated with pictures on the wall, local objects, all beautiful and made of different elements, metal, glass, plastic and wood, with indoor plants and freshly cut flowers. This living room is the heart of the Children’s House as most time is spent here, it is a place where intangible aspects are felt strongly. In the Living room is a Library corner, an attractive area with seats for reading books, with wide interest and reading levels, well organised to help a child use independently. The pictures, objects and books should be changed to stimulate interest and materials and mats colour coded and kept neatly in the same place to help the children access those materials which she feels urged to work with, and to allow her to tidy up after herself.
In the building there is also a cloakroom, where belongings are stored and looked after, and the washroom and toilets, kept clean and orderly with furniture of appropriate size and hooks so a child may hang her clothes. A veranda or passage links the building to an outdoor garden, beautiful and utilitarian, safe and able to satisfy the curiosity, with flowers, herbs, vegetables, leaves, ideally trees, birds, insects and creatures to stimulate the senses and cater for the Exercises of Practical Life.
When the child is ready a Montessorian adult will demonstrate the use of materials and purposeful activities, which until their revelation have been kept discretely in the Living Room. The adult establishes a link between the child and his environment by showing how to use them in a way which may provoke repetition, concentration, and self-perfection, which assists the child’s self-formation, puts her into the path of normalisation and leads to, not only the ability to carry out a function and thereby contribute to the social group and orderliness of the Children’s House but also to feelings of satisfaction and bliss.
The objects and activities in the Children’s House help the four main areas of development, the Exercises of Practical Life, Sensorial Activities, Language and Mathematical Development. The Exercises of Practical Life are the first ones the child is exposed to, they build on his familiarity with the daily activities he sees in her home and his will to do them and contribute to her fairly and the orderliness to her environment is already there, they fulfil her needs, draw on the tendencies and potentials and can easily be practiced, developing her self-construction and will. These activities fall under the areas of Care of Person, tying laces, using buttons; Care of Environment, washing, cleaning, polishing, gardening; Grace and Courtesy lessons, perfecting localised social rituals and two exercises to co-ordinate the movements, first the ‘Walking on the Line’ activity which allows a precise use of movement and later the ‘Silence Activity’, where children master the inhibition of movement.
Sensorial Activities follow to help the child discriminate qualities of materials, to isolate and study one feature, e.g. colour, diameter, pitch, and encourages these distinctions to be internalised so that all impressions can be categorised and classified, refining the sense organs and an internal order leading to clarity of thought. Thirdly Language activities build on the Explosion into Language by refining oral and later written skills, the reading corner introduces the pleasure of handling books which cannot yet be read and inspire the child, who thinks that soon she will. Mathematics is the final area, the ‘Mathematical Mind’ is an innate tendency amongst human drawing together tendencies for, work, manipulation, discrimination, judgement and abstraction towards the tendencies of order, precision and self perfection.
The adult’s role is to connect the child to her environment, presenting each activity when the child is developmentally ready and open to the possibility of receiving it, she gives the child the freedom of choice and independence if she is acting on her hidden tendencies. The teacher is able to link the child by balancing a dual role of teaching and observing. By teaching she prepared, maintains and develops the environment to the girls changing needs, she brings the materials ‘alive’ by touching and interacting with them with enthusiasm during the presentations, in which she stimulates curiosity and respect for the materials by the way the adult moves, carries and uses each object. The adult Montessorian is precise and clear in her movements and with the language she uses during a presentation so the child can imitate and she ensures there is always a plentiful supply of consumable supplies, pens, papers etc and that they are ready for use. As an observer the adult is discrete, unobtrusive and does not interfere with the child’s work cycle. She is able to differentiate a child led by her ‘inner voice’, on the path to Normalisation and a child whose behaviour is unfocused, who remains separate form the environment, the materials and her need for purposeful work. The adult always maintaining an attitude of respect and dignity towards the child, ensuring that the child feels safe and secure so that her energies are not spent protecting herself, a necessary condition for concentration to arise.
‘The teacher is the trait-d’union between the child – distracted, lulled or repressed and the educative environment prepared for his activity’, (Montessori, The Discovery of the Child p.31)
Lastly, the adult also connects daily, through reports and conferences with parents so that the Prepared environment successfully links to the home environment and that there is understanding of if not some homogeneity between different areas of her Supra Environments, as consistency and order are important, as is a good relationship between parent and Montessorian.
The Prepared Environment gives the child the opportunity to connect with the process of normalisation, it is an holistic environment to integrate psychic and physical needs, to encourage a strong personality able to contribute to her own development and the society and order and beauty of her environment through her will, choices and independence. The prepared environment no only contains materials and activities to perfect movement, co-ordination, and to act on tendencies but also a community of learners who can offer help or be kindly aided and an adult to model problem solving, social ease, gracefulness, precision, love and security, to inspire to confidence of parents and infants.