Maria Montessori believed that children are born with tremendous potential that can be developed and fulfilled exclusively through their own minds and will.
It doesn’t mean parents have no role in this-quite the opposite. The ability of children to develop their potential depends mainly on their caregivers and the environment in which they grow.
According to Maria Montessori, there are three critical aspects forming a child:
- a child himself
- an adult (parents, teachers), and
- a prepared environment.
All of them are closely connected and can never be fully separated.
In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at the third aspect—a prepared environment—and some practical tips on how to create it at your home.
What is a prepared environment?
In Montessori education, a prepared environment is an environment tailored to a child’s needs. It meets his level of intelligence and abilities and satisfies his need for independence and meaningful self-directed work—play.
Dr. Montessori stressed the importance of following the child. It means observing and understanding the child and respecting the child’s interests and developmental level.
A prepared environment should be:
- safe and ready to be explored
- ordered and beautiful
- peaceful, harmonious, and inspiring
In order to fully comprehend what exactly a prepared environment should look like, we have to understand first what the “absorbent mind” means.
The concept of the absorbent mind was introduced by doctor Montessori. She believed that every child is born with a mind that absorbs everything caught by the child’s senses.
Like a sponge, unconsciously and effortlessly.
The period of absorbent mind is most dominant till the age of 3 but ends fully only at around the age of 6. That is why early childhood development is so crucial and why we should pay close attention to the environment of a child.
As Montessori writes in her London Lectures: “With the absorbent mind, a child can achieve anything he wants, if the environment is favorable.”
How to create a prepared environment at home
By prepared environment, we also mean participation in practical life activities, freedom from distractions, aesthetics, and most importantly—relationships surrounding the child.
Let’s take a look at some basic principles you can follow at home:
1. Encourage independence and participation in practical life
From its very beginning, the education of a child should lead to his independence—of course, while respecting the child’s age and capabilities.
Children, given the opportunity and the right-sized tools, are capable of caring for themselves and their environment.
That is why practical life activities are an essential part of Montessori education. Not only do they boost independence and self-confidence, they teach children how to overcome obstacles and work on their self-development.
- Put the toys on a low shelf so that the child can reach them at any time. Consider using a floor bed. It promotes freedom of movement.
- Try using a learning tower in the kitchen so that the child can assist you with cooking.
- Create a self-care area, where the child can wash himself, brush his teeth, comb his hair, etc.
- Put the child’s clothes in an easy-to-reach spot (e.g. a small wardrobe) where the child can choose his clothes.
- Create a cleaning area with a small broom, piece of cloth, and water so that the child can tidy up after himself
- Create a snack area so that the child can take a snack and fill his glass with water without asking you (see more tips in our guide to Montessori kitchen)
2. Provide relevant toys and materials
The child knows best what he needs to learn—and when.
The Montessori method puts emphasis on following the child and encourages parents to observe their child closely and respect his needs and interests.
It can be helpful for parents to be aware of the so-called sensitive periods when children are focused on certain types of activities.
This can help us to prepare the environment properly and offer the needed materials. It is important to note that children should choose the materials by themselves.
- Learn about the sensitive periods and try to observe your child’s interests
- Based on the sensitive periods, try to offer materials from various areas:
- Sensory area – materials that help to understand various qualities of objects around them (e.g. a pink tower, knobbed cylinders)
- Movement (e.g. a Pikler triangle, stepping stones)
- Mathematics – materials that encourage hands-on learning of basic mathematical principles (e.g. numerical rods, golden beads material)
- Language – materials encouraging vocabulary, nomenclature, writing, and reading skills (e.g. sandpaper letters, nomenclature cards, movable alphabet, various Montessori-friendly books)
- Music (e.g. musical instruments set)
3. Provide a distraction-free environment
Our environment has a huge impact on our mental and physical health. Maria Montessori was a great proponent of creating a distraction-free environment as it helps children to concentrate on their activities.
As she said: “The child who concentrates is immensely happy.”
We can see this in Montessori classrooms. They are very neat and perfectly organized. Everything is beautiful and has its own place, as all children have a natural sense of order helping them orient themselves in the world.
- Assign a place for every toy. Children love order and predictability.
- De-clutter your child’s room by following the “less is more” principle—whether it’s limiting the number of decorations, toys, or pieces of furniture.
- If getting rid of toys is too hard for you, try toy rotation. Always display only a limited number of toys at a time and store the rest away.
- Limit the time spent in front of the screens.
- Spend more time in nature (we love the “1000 Hours Outside” project)
4. Pay attention to beauty and aesthetics
Beauty has a very important place in Montessori education. Maria Montessori believed that “there is a mathematical relationship between the beauty of his surroundings and the activity of the child”.
Our aim should be to create an environment that is not only distraction-free but also aesthetically pleasing. This way, we can inspire a child’s sense of beauty and style.
- Use natural materials (like wood, cotton, and linen) as much as possible
Display pieces of art (e.g. simple prints and illustrations)
- Get some live house plants (and let the child participate in taking care of them)
- Incorporate other senses: listen to classical music (you can start with this YouTube playlist), find time to bake a delicious cake together, arrange a bouquet in a vase, etc.
Maria Montessori noted that children that have the opportunity to grow in a prepared environment are content and calm. Their mind is nourished and they concentrate more easily.
It doesn’t mean you have to own all Montessori materials that can be found in Montessori classrooms. Work with what you have and don’t forget that the most important aspect of a child’s environment are the relationships with those around your child.
We hope these tips will help you incorporate some of the principles of a Montessori prepared environment in your home.