“The environment itself will teach the child, if every little error he makes is manifest to him, without the intervention of a parent or teacher who should remain a quiet observer of all that happens.”
The Montessori environment or classroom works as Montessori herself describes above because it is a prepared environment. Whether a teacher is working with infants or toddlers, her attention to not only preparing the classroom for the children, but also her attention to maintaining and adjusting the environment after seeing the children in it are primary aspects of establishing a successful Montessori classroom.
In order to create and maintain such an environment, the teacher must have knowledge of child development in general, and knowledge and understanding of each child in his or her care. The first comes through study. The second can only come through—again, as Montessori points out above—careful, well-practiced observation. With observation and understanding of how a child is developing, the Montessori teacher can prepare and maintain (or hone) the classroom so that it always meets the ever-changing needs of the developing child. Since the teacher’s observations must be on-going through-out the course of her work with the child, the prepared environment must be a dynamic one.
From the beginning of establishing such an environment, the teacher must ask herself for whom is she setting up this classroom. What is the age group? How many will there be? Who are these particular children? And once the room has been set up, subsequent questions about the room itself (especially regarding safety and how the children are experiencing the room sensorially) might be along the lines of the following: What are the children seeing here? What are they hearing? What’s going to go in the children’s mouths? (The answer to the last one is everything!) Once one begins asking these questions, one begins to see not only the number of characteristics that make up the Montessori environment, but also the complexity or nuances of those characteristics.
For starters, the environment should be safe and inviting. Materials, furnishings, and decorations should be simple, appropriately sized for those using them, clean, and in good repair. The environment should be orderly and logical, certainly to accommodate and support the child’s burgeoning sense of order, but also to make the environment a more sensible and enjoyable place for the adults to work. Curriculum is grouped by areas (gross motor, fine motor, sensorial, language, art, practical life, math). There should be access to nature. Time outdoors is essential, and care of plants and animals in the classroom are invaluable as well.
Finally, the classroom is an open space where freedom of movement and self-direction for the child are tantamount. The Montessori teacher is a model of how to move and work within the environment. She respects all forms of “reasonable activity” (Montessori) with the materials and supports all manner of purposeful interaction within the environment (only intervening or interrupting in matters of safety or destructive misuse). In this way, through intense involvement with one another (through preparation, observation, and real human connection) the teacher, the child, and the environment come together to realize and make manifest the rich and rewarding (for all involved) Montessori experience.
To hear more about this topic, please come to “All Things Toddler Educational Fair,” Saturday, January 24 from 9am to 11:30am.
Head Teacher, Toddler Full Day