“...the caterpillar and the butterfly are two creatures very different to look at and in the way they behave, yet the beauty of the butterfly comes from its life in the larval form, and not through any efforts it may make to imitate another butterfly. We serve the future by protecting the present. The more fully the needs of one period are met, the greater will be the success of the next.” (Maria Montessori) The Montessori environment may be looked at as a small society that is preparing the child for his future. Guiding him towards finding his role in the Universe; that he has a responsibility to nature; and to be respectful to everything in the Universe. To enable the directress to channel the children towards these goals she must “believe that the child before her will show his true nature when he finds a piece of work that attracts him.” This is a delicate process and requires many aspects to be considered before this can be achieved. Many, who have not familiar with the Montessori philosophy, have the impression that the ‘teacher’ does very little in the class, and the children are relatively unsupervised and ‘can do whatever they want.’ This misconception I have heard repeated by many, and I have tried on numerous occasions to inform those about the true Montessori philosophy and the significant function that the directress has in guiding the child towards discovering his true self. “The education of even a small child, therefore, does not aim at preparing him for school, but for life”. I will explore the importance of the environment, the role of the directress and the whole child.
The Prepared Environment
“There is nothing in the Montessori prepared environment that is there by chance.” (Maria Montessori) This is because everything in the learning environment has a purpose. All items are carefully selected and placed at a correct level, physically and academically for the benefit of the learning child. Maria Montessori believed that, “The child learns more from his surroundings than he does from us...” It is therefore imperative that the environment be beneficial to the child’s intellectual, spiritual, physical, social and emotional development. This is to enable the learner to grow in a space that is inviting, peaceful and especially conducive to satisfying the child’s absorbent mind. Just as a chef in a restaurant kitchen needs culinary equipment in clean, working order and fresh ingredients to complete his tasks, so does a child require his learning environment to be functional, clean and purposeful. The prepared environment has many distinguishing features that differ from conventional schools. Firstly, there is no large teacher’s desk in the front of the room. Instead, you enter a space for little people, where all the furniture is at a low level with an “unencumbered floor space” in the centre. The chairs, tables and open shelves are child-size, made from natural materials, clean and clear of clutter. The room is spacious, bright and welcoming. The walls have interesting and attractive pictures and posters of an array of subjects from the solar system, timelines to inspirational work by famous artists. Montessori encourages the learning and love of nature, and encourages the representation of the ‘natural world’ in the environment by displaying a nature table or area. These vary and may include plants, flowers and growing seeds. Caring for animals and insects is also encouraged as is, access to a garden and nature.
In Montessori environments one can clearly see the room is organized into several curriculum areas and those in turn, are arranged sequentially. From areas of practical life,...