Montessori Prepared EnvironmentPre-K and KindergartenE.F.W.M.A offers a child-centered early education program composed of Sensorial, Practical Life, Mathematics, Cultural, Language and Creative areas of learning. Children follow the scientific method of discovery from birth to learn. They taste, touch, smell, manipulate and investigate everything around them. They ask endless questions. They are spontaneously curious and motivated. Good education builds upon this fact of children and works to keep the spark of intellect and self-confidence alive.
E.F.W.M.A offers a prepared environment and Montessori certified teachers in classrooms for children age three through five.
Preschool & Kindergarten
The first undertaking of a Montessori teacher is to set up her classroom. In Montessori, the classroom is called the Prepared Environment. Parents can also create a Prepared Environment at home. A Prepared Environment not only includes the physical materials, but it also encompasses the atmosphere and the rules that govern the environment (home or school).
Preparing the Environment
The child from 3 to 6 is being introduced to the world. We do not believe in pushing a child, but we believe firmly in providing an environment rich in all areas of learning so that the child can choose, using their intuition, what they are ready to learn. Young children show a fantastic interest in a wide range of subjects.
A rich environment creates interests and extends the child’s experience, widening their grasp of such things as music, art, history, geography, science, language, and math. Observations, over the years, of the child’s built-in curiosity and interest in all these areas of study and accomplishments, have taught us to focus on the preparation of the early environment and allow the child to choose and to educate themselves. The adult’s challenge is to be sure that the environment offers all of the essential experiences necessary for the laying of this foundation.
Rather than relying on verbal lessons, computers, TV, or videos (or other examples of passive learning) because the subject is academic, we rely on the same abilities developed in the areas of practical life and good toys.
We create an environment rich in experiments, games, materials, and books which the child can select as the interest arises, providing experiences of hand and mind working together for an intelligent purpose.
Organizing the Environment
I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn. --Einstein
The environment is vital at any level of the development of the child. To show respect for the developing sense of beauty, to aid the growing independence, and to inspire agency within the child, we choose the best of everything for the environment. A picture on a wall can be a framed art print or a simple poster.
Children at this age often prefer to work on the floor instead of at a table – on rugs or pieces of carpet that can be rolled up when not in use. This is a workspace just as a table can be. In the classroom, we use a variety of colors and shades, plain in design so that the child can focus on his work.
In the home, rather than keeping things in large toy chests or boxes, we use trays and baskets for most things. The child’s belonging can be sorted in baskets, boxes, and on shelves, into types of clothing, blocks, and other toys, puzzles, art materials, kitchen tools, etc. This makes finding and putting away easier and enjoyable.
In the classroom, materials are attractively arranged on shelves according to subject – language, math, geography, history, science, music, and art. Each piece of material has a special permanent place so that children know where to find it and where to put it away for the next person when finished. Materials are arranged from the most simple to the more complex.
Tables and chairs of the correct height are important at every age to support the body in good posture while the child reads, writes, works. As the child grows, the table and chair should be changed to support good posture at every age.
Environment in the Home
There are two important things to keep in mind in organizing a child’s environment in the home:
1) Have a place in each room for the few, carefully chosen child’s belongings: By the front door have a stool to sit on and a place to hang coats and keep shoes. In the living room have a place for the child’s books and toys – neatly and attractively organized. Think out the activities and materials for all living spaces and arrange the environment to include the child’s activities.
2) Don’t put out too many toys and books at one time. Those being used by the child at the moment are sufficient. It is a good idea to rotate – taking out those books and toys that have not been chosen lately and removing them to storage for a time. Children grow, and change and they need help to keep their environment uncluttered and peaceful.
The Environment and the Mind
Everyone at every age is affected by their environment. Habits of organizing the environment reduce stress and aid the development of an organized, efficient, and creative mind. The Chinese art of placement, or Feng Shui, teaches that clutter, even hidden under a bed or piled on the top of bookcases, is bad for a person.
A child who joins in the arrangement of an environment, at school or at home, and learns to select a few lovely things instead of piles of unused toys, books, clothes, etc., will be aided in many ways with this help in creating good work habits, concentration, and a clear, uncluttered, and peaceful mind.
The adult model is always the most important element in the environment. It is by observing what we do, not what we say, that the child will learn.
There are special materials or sensorial puzzles in the 3 – 6 class, such as the “pink tower’, the “color tablets”, and the “sound boxes”; which give very clear experiences of important concepts such as “large and small”, “darker and lighter”, “loud and soft”, and so on. These sensorial materials are not necessary in the home, where parents can find other ways of introducing these experiences in the daily life of children – feeling the temperature of the bath water, exploring tastes while baking, and color or size with toys, clothes, etc.
Whether a toy is a puzzle or an open-ended toy such as blocks and dolls, the child wants to know the procedures connected with it. We can show the child where the toy is kept when it is not in use. The teacher shows the child how to carry the work and the basic possibilities for its use.The most important result is that the child combines her mental faculties with the work of the hands, enjoys the experience of focusing and concentrating, and finds joy in the activity.Cooperative Games
In environments where children work and play independently and cooperatively, they learn the most valuable kind of socialization – helping each other. In the home, or in the classroom, cooperative games help to lay this groundwork. In other games, we find that competitive play often stifles unity. Most competitive game cause players to feel isolated or left out. The action is secretive and the results can be hurt feelings or arguments. In cooperative games, children and adults feel good about each other because they enjoy sharing, helping each other, and making joint decisions. In short, the challenge shifts from defeating each other to helping each other.
After a group of children or a family learns to play cooperative games, it becomes easy to change the rules of any other game to make it less competitive. We consider this real ‘socialization’ and preparation for positive interactions throughout life.Blocks
Blocks have been a favorite of children the world over forever. They can be made from simple stones, clay bricks, pieces of tree branches, or polished hardwoods. The attraction is that the imagination of the child is set free to create relationships between these physical objects.
Many mathematical and geometric relationships and architectural concepts are discovered, and physics principles are discovered as the structure gets too tall or too heavy. The child can also work out personal problems by playacting with blocks, animal models, and little people. In our experience, next to doing real family work, playing with blocks has been the greatest aid to developing concentration.
Puzzles provide visual discrimination practice as the child figures out exactly how the elements fit together visually, and eye-hand control as the pieces are fitted together. They teach the child that work/play is not just open-ended but can have a beautiful and logical structure. They more easily give practice in the beginning and ending of an activity and the satisfaction of completion. The progression of puzzles is first 1, 2, or 3 piece knobbed puzzles, then multiple-piece knobbed puzzles, simple jigsaw puzzles in frames with gradually increasing numbers of pieces, then cube puzzles, and regular cardboard jigsaw puzzles.
Just as a child is eager to know the exact techniques for using a kitchen tool, a woodworking tool, a gardening tool, or the technique of playing a musical instrument, she wants to know the exact ways to use “puzzle toys”. A short demonstration of the use of the toy or activity prepares the child to be successful in its use. The child also learns respect for the materials when they are taught to use them properly. Playing with open-ended toys, such as dolls, blocks art materials, and so forth, is made infinitely richer by the child’s knowledge of exact techniques in handling any toys or materials. We would be doing a child a disservice if we allowed her to use anything – blocks, a violin bow, a hand mixer – as a hammer, for example. This does not stifle creativity, but facilitates it!
Through the use of all good materials, the child learns how to think, to concentrate, to complete a train of thought and a cycle of activity, and to solve problems. She learns to bring the use of her body, and especially her hands, under the control of her will, to be self-disciplined. This is the foundation for the creativity of a professional artist or composer, and for the creativity of a child at any age.
Respecting Work and Concentration
One of the most important elements of the Montessori philosophy is that of respecting the concentration of a child. When the child is engaged in something safe and purposeful this is considered a child’s important “work” and the adult’s role is to respect and protect it.
“The first essential for the child’s development is concentration. It lays the whole basis for his character and social behavior. Praise, help, or even a look, may be enough to interrupt him or destroy the activity. It seems a strange thing to say, but this can happen even if the child meekly becomes aware of being watched. After all, we too sometimes feel unable to go on working if someone comes to see what we are doing.
The teacher’s [and parents’] skill in not interfering comes with practice, like everything else, but it never comes very easily. What advice can we give to an interesting occupation: they should not be helped unnecessarily, nor interrupted, once they have begun to do something intelligent.
--Dr. Maria Montessori