In addition to being a child-centered community, the Montessori preschool classroom is also a “prepared environment.” The prepared environment is Maria Montessori’s concept that the environment can be designed to facilitate maximum independent learning and exploration by the child.
The Montessori preschool classroom is a “living room” for children. All of the furniture is child-sized and all of the materials are scaled to fit the physical dimensions of a preschooler’s body. Space is usually divided into four distinct areas: practical life, sensorial, mathematics, and language. Although these areas represent part of the curriculum, it is important to remember that no subject is taught in isolation. The Montessori preschool curriculum is interdisciplinary and interactive.
In the prepared environment, there is a variety of activity as well as a great deal of movement. A 3-year-old, for example, may be washing clothes by hand while a 4-year-old nearby is composing words and phrases with letters known as the moveable alphabet. Meanwhile, a 5-year-old may be performing multiplication using a specially designed set of beads. Although much of the work at this stage of development is done individually, often children enjoy working at an activity with friends. Sometimes the entire class is involved in a group activity, such as storytelling, singing, or movement.
Maria Montessori wrote that the adult works to perfect the environment while the child works to perfect herself. The Montessori preschool 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 and discipline in a place specially designed for her development.