Montessori learning environments are prepared to enable infants, children and young people to learn through their own activity. As much freedom and independence as possible is given for their age and stage, in other words a level of freedom matched to their ability to regulate and discipline themselves. They are also provided with resources and activities that capture their interest and initiate cycles of purposeful activity requiring concentration and judgement.
In the Montessori view the development of infants, children and young people is stimulated by action, and interaction, within their environment. What is offered in the environment will, thus, largely determine how children develop intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. Educational research in recent decades, drawing on theories of place developed by cultural geographers, resonates with the significance Montessori educators over the last century have given to the role of the environment in human development (Ellis 2005; Tuan 1977).
The essential components of a Montessori learning environment are:
- the infants, children or young people
- the trained adults
- the physical surroundings, including the specially designed Montessori educational material.
Montessori learning environments are prepared to nurture children’s natural tendency to work and their love of learning. They provide opportunities for children to engage in spontaneous, purposeful activities under the guidance of a trained adult. The design of a Montessori learning environment has four dimensions.
• The physical environment is characterised by furniture and implements, matched to the size and strength of the children, and by distinctive educational materials designed to precise specifications and matched to developmental stage.
• The social environment comprises a multi-age peer group, a trained teacher and trained teaching assistants as required. This dimension of the environment is designed so infants, children and young people can develop both as individuals and as social beings. It includes real-life activities that link them in meaningful ways to their home, community and culture, as well as activities that develop a concept of their place in the world and the wider Universe.
• The time environment is designed to give children the time they need to develop. Wherever possible the school day is made up of unbroken three-hour work periods, so children are able to follow their interests and to achieve their learning goals without being interrupted.
• The emotional environment is prepared so children always feel safe, secure and confident enough to follow their interests and to engage in deep concentration.
Preparation of the learning environment is a fundamental task of the Montessori teacher. This task is summarised by Mooney (2000: 29) in the following way:
“Montessori urged teachers not to interfere with the child’s patterns and pace of learning. She thought it was the teacher’s job to prepare the environment, provide appropriate materials, and then step back and allow time and space to experiment. Open ended scheduling, with large blocks of time for free work and play, is part of Montessori’s legacy”.
Extract from Montessori National Curriculum, Montessori Australia Foundation.