The Prepared Environment
A multi-age setting enhances learning; children learn from one another, and they learn because of each other. Younger children get a chance to look ahead and see what is coming next by watching their older classmates work. Older children have the opportunity to reinforce their knowledge by sharing it with their younger classmates. Younger children emulate older children, and older children reinforce their knowledge by "teaching" the younger children.
A multi-age setting, whether it be preschool or elementary, provides children with opportunities for broad social development. The students' constant interaction with each other teaches them how to get along with children of different ages and abilities, to respect each other's work and work space, and to treat each other with courtesy. The children take an active role in maintaining their classroom, and it becomes a thriving community where everyone is treated with respect and dignity.
Self-confidence develops and children are given the opportunity for even greater leadership roles. Relationships and their complexities are supported by alert and sensitive adults who are trained to observe and enhance social interaction, not to repress it.
Freedom of Movement and Atmosphere
A child's natural inclination is not to sit at a desk all day. For this reason, a Montessori environment allows for a variety of activity as well as a great deal of movement. Much of the work is done individually, but children often enjoy working on an activity with friends in small groups or on a whole class project.
The Montessori prepared environment respects and protects the child's rhythm of life. It is a calm, ordered space constructed to meet her needs and match her scale of activity. Here, the child experiences a blend of freedom which goes hand in hand with self-discipline.
Fostering a Peaceful Community
One of the differences between Montessori education and other systems of education is that in a Montessori school the universal values of respect, trust, and tolerance are imparted to students through the use of "cosmic education." In a Montessori environment, where subject matters are linked together and not isolated from one another, students come to know who they each are and where they stand in the "big picture" of human experience. By celebrating and exploring the diversity of cultures through art, religion, language, traditions, and day-to-day living, students come to understand the interconnectedness of all things, of all people, and the level of personal responsibility that is needed for the well-being of the world and all it's inhabitants.
The Preschool Prepared Environment and Materials
The Montessori "prepared environment" of the preschool classroom is a "living room" for children, which is designed to facilitate maximum independent learning and exploration by each child. The classroom space is divided into five distinct areas: Practical Life, Sensorial, Mathematics, Language, and Culture. No subject is taught in isolation; the Montessori preschool curriculum is interdisciplinary and interactive.
Each area's materials are arranged invitingly on low , open shelves. Each child may choose his work from the shelves so long as a lesson has been presented to him. He may work for as long as the material holds his interest. When the child is finished with the material, he returns it to the shelf from which it came.
The materials themselves invite activity and are the focal point of the classroom. The walls are kept clear of distracting pictures.
The Elementary Prepared Environment and Materials
The Montessori elementary environment balances the child's developing imagination and powers of abstraction with down-to-earth, concrete, hands-on materials. The classroom is still divided by curriculum areas, but again, the subjects are not taught in isolation. Lessons are placed on shelves for individual children to use by themselves or with a small group of classmates, but hands-on materials will become of less importance, particularly at the higher elementary levels, when the child will begin to work more abstractly. Each lesson's material has its structured sequences which have been designed to lead the child to discovery and understanding of the physical world.
Montessori provides diverse and creative passages to abstraction. Mathematics, for instance, is presented through three-dimensional manipulative materials, each providing a concrete way to experience an abstract concept. Likewise, the grammar materials use symbols and visual patterns to help the child discover parts of speech and analyze the structure, style, and logic of sentences. These exercises refine reading and writing skills and lay the foundation for foreign language study. The prepared environment provides the "keys" of each discipline in a manner that meets the elementary child's needs for inspiration as well as order.
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