Edition 1 | October, 2017


Understanding the Montessori Prepared Environment.

The Montessori Prepared Environment

Anthony Milano, Deputy Principal & Head of Montessori Teaching and Learning

Anthony MilanoWalking into a Montessori environment for the first time can be a profound experience. The environment challenges your beliefs of what learning, education and schooling are all about. The only frame of reference is a reflection on the type of education you experienced as a child, or if you are a teacher, the types of classrooms you have taught in. For me, having been a product of traditional schooling, and having only worked in a variety of traditional classrooms for over 10 years, I couldn’t put my finger exactly on what was different at first, but the environment was unlike any classroom I had ever seen. It felt different too. Peaceful. Purposeful.

Over the course of 3 hours, I witnessed some of the most amazing experiences that would challenge my ideas about education, and ways of thinking about how children work and learn forever. These included the way the teacher worked with the children, the use of hands on materials, lessons that excited the children, the 3 hour work cycle, and the prepared classroom that made learning easy and children independent. It wasn’t until I became a Montessori teacher that I fully appreciated how powerful the prepared environment was in assisting children to become independent learners. Remember, the prepared environment is only one aspect of what makes a great Montessori experience.

What is a Montessori Prepared Environment? Montessori tells us that it is a specially prepared environment that meets the developmental needs of the children. It is a place where the children find all that is needed to work at self-formation and to maximise their inner potential. It includes the physical indoor and outdoor space, the furniture, the materials, the children and the adults. What follows is a summary of information gathered from a number of Montessori sources to further expand on the the theme of understanding the beautiful environments that we create for children within a Montessori school.

Anthony MilanoFreedom

Freedom is a given within the Montessori prepared environment. When a child is free from adult determined restrictions they explore all the possibilities that the world provides for them. In our classroom environments we respect the child’s freedom to move, the freedom to explore, freedom to interact socially, and the freedom from interference from others. With freedom comes the natural presence of discipline and order as purposeful work and harmony develop.

What does this look like? Some examples:

All activities are pre-prepared so that these tiny children need as little adult assistance as possible. Floor beds enable children to sleep when they wish, and move about again when they wake up, without needing an adult’s help. If the child can stand, they are not forced to lie down when they are changed. If they cannot hold a spoon, adults do not force food into their mouths but hold the spoon within reach so they can choose when and how much to eat.

The children’s freedom is limited by the features of the physical space and by the need to maintain social harmony and the conditions that support learning. Children are not free to disturb someone who is working or to misuse the learning materials. They are also responsible for returning materials to the shelves ready for the next person to use, and for contributing to the care of the environment.

The classrooms are prepared to give children as much freedom as possible, while maintaining social harmony and the conditions that support purposeful work and learning. The emphasis is on building intellectual independence alongside social and practical independence. Children are free to move about and to work uninterrupted on self-chosen and set activities, for as long as they like, but without causing harm, or disturbing anyone else’s work. They have the freedom to work alone or collaboratively in pairs or groups.

Anthony MilanoStructure and Order

Structure and Order in the Montessori classroom reflects the sense of structure and order in our every day lives. Without structure and order there is chaos. Everything from the routines, the order of the materials on a shelf, the structure of a lesson, the rules in and out of the classroom are there to provide consistency and to assist regulation.

What does this look like? Some examples:

The Infant Community Director offers parents many ideas for establishing order and routine within the home. These are modelled in the program and aim to give the infant as much freedom of movement and independence as possible. To contribute to order there is a designated space for each activity, whether it is food preparation, eating or nappy changing.

Every detail of the prepared environment is planned ahead of time in order to give children as much freedom and independence as possible. This order is an external guide for children and helps them to create an internal order. This makes it possible for children to learn through their own activity, and to provide motives for purposeful activity that requires concentration.

The prepared environment still provides the sense of structure and order that the child requires but it is not so meticulously protected and micro-managed due to the changing sensitivities of the child. The children now want to know the “why”, “what for” and “how things come to be the way they are”. They need to talk and express themselves more. The concern with order and harmony is maintained but now extends beyond the social and spatial limits of the environment.


Anthony Milano Our Montessori environments are beautiful. The environments suggest a simple harmony and reflect in many ways an ordered and beautiful home. Through the structure, order and beauty comes peace and a love for the environment. The children really begin to care for their class environments. From the moment you step into the environment it is inviting and pleasing to the eye. Everything in the environment from the Montessori materials, the furnishings to the child’s work reflects beauty in some way. In a special way the environment invites the child to work.

What does this look like? Some examples:

The Montessori environment for infants is a world in miniature. Everything is designed to give these children interesting activities and as much freedom and independence as possible. The Infant Community environment is light and airy, clean and safe, ordered and beautiful, with plenty of space for children to move about freely.

The prepared environment is simple, elegant and beautiful. Every effort is made to keep the environment in perfect order, with everything in place. The effect is warm and inviting. All furnishings and objects are child-sized, and placed at a child’s level and within reach.

The prepared environment contains the materials that will give children the each area of knowledge. The materials are beautiful and are designed to capture children’s attention and to hold their interest. Alongside the materials are often cultural items, wall charts and displays which provide opportunities for further interest and research.

Anthony MilanoNature and Reality

Our Montessori environments are truly special. They invite the learner to focus on the real world around them. The lessons provide an insight into the world of nature through the study of plants, animals, the earth and the universe. We take the children into the reality of nature via the animals in and outside the environment; and the care of plants in the communal gardens.

What does this look like? Some examples:

As babies and toddlers use their senses to explore the environment, there are a variety of surfaces available for exploration including tiles, wood, glass and fabric. Fabrics are used for soft furnishings, and are chosen for their sensory appeal. There are wall mirrors and mobiles to catch the eye. Furniture and objects are real and matched to the size of the children, their strength and abilities.

The prepared environment has plenty of light and fresh air. The plants and flowers in the room are fresh and arranged. The environment has plenty of open space both indoors and outdoors, so the children can move easily and freely within and between all areas. The children take care of the indoor and outdoor environments. The garden and its activities are a link to the beginnings of the study of Botany.

Children of this age are eager to explore beyond the limits of their classroom. Therefore “going-out” becomes essential for further research and projects. This can include visits to the zoo, museums, art gallery, botanic gardens and nature reserves. The school gardens and pets add the immediacy of reality to the study of Botany and Zoology.

Social Environment

Each Montessori learning environment is prepared for a particular three year phase: 0-3, 3-6, 6-9 and 9-12. Three-year multi-age groupings are an essential feature of the Montessori approach. During each three-year cycle the children learn the norms of the group as a whole. They practice everyday skills such as grace and courtesy, collaboration, and how to work with a partner or in small groups. The prepared environment also encourages with activities that can be completed alone or with others. Anthony MilanoWhere there is freedom to interact within the environment, children learn to encourage and develop a sense of compassion and empathy for others. As children develop, they become more socially aware, preparing to work and play in groups. This social interaction is supported throughout the environment and is encouraged with the nature of multi-age classroom settings. When children work as part of a community of mixed ages, they form a mini society and gradually learn to work with each other. Montessori called this a “society by cohesion”. Each individual works for herself and yet works for the good of the whole.

What does this look like? Some examples:

Babies and toddlers love to work, and are constantly busy, exploring, manipulating, and handling. They work to understand the world they live in. They need work that is based in reality to help them to come to understand the world. Being in a small social group allows a toddler to practice newly developing social skills: taking turns, accepting the rights of others, sharing adults, playing in a socially acceptable way. We also set a few rules to govern the way we live and work together.

The younger children look up to and admire the work of the older ones and are secure in the knowledge that they will one day be doing such activities themselves. The older children learn to be caring, considerate, and patient with the younger ones and to show patience and understanding. Understanding and respect evolve in the environment as they learn to respect each other’s work and to wait their turn.

Mario Montessori Jnr tells us, “At this stage of development, one can observe a growing interest in the behaviour of peers and the wish to join others in groups”. We clearly see children wanting to be like other children - in dress, interests, and work. This increasing socialisation is marked by certain kinds of behaviour. The child of six to twelve is generous with their possessions when compared with younger children, who find it difficult to share or give away things. Older children work out systems for taking turns, they give one another gifts, and they constantly “swap” items. Older children quite naturally play social games with each other and all the participants are willingly abiding by the rules. Mario Montessori states, “that by creating a group with special laws, signs and sometimes language the child has the experience of social life…One day he will become a social being, and this is how nature prepares him for his grown up task”.

Intellectual Environment

Anthony MilanoOur Montessori environments provide our children at the different stages with an understanding of ‘home’ as my special place. From the home they are given the earth. From the earth they are given the universe. Each progression through concrete experiences develops the personality and intellect of the child. By guiding the child through the Infant Community, the five areas of the Montessori curriculum (Practical Life, Sensorial, Language, Mathematics, and Cultural subjects) in the 3-6, and through Cosmic education (the deep connections between the Key Learning Areas) in the 6-12, the child has the structure which is at the forefront of the creative and collaborative work in a Montessori classroom.

What does this look like? Some examples:

The period from birth to about six years of age is the developmental period of greatest significance. During this time newborn infants transform themselves into walking and talking children. Children of this age range show a strong urge to use all the senses to explore the world. They have an intense interest in spoken language. They have a love of order and routine. There is an interest in precise, controlled movement. They also have a deep fascination with very small things.

The children of this age range have successive interest in specific types of sensory exploration, using one sense at a a time. They have an incredible urge to refine their sensory perception and discrimination. Through their micro-community they develop an interest in the customs of the social group. Intellectually there is a strong interest in writing, using numbers and counting, and an emerging interest in reading.

The children of this age range move from the “absorbent mind” to the “reasoning mind”. Here the child uses their imagination, ask questions, research and problem solve to understand the complex world around them. In fact Montessori tells us to “give the child the universe”. As part of this the child has a heightened interest in being part of a social group. They develop deep fascination with different fields of knowledge. Within their ‘microcosm’ of society they have an urge to investigate ethics and morality to construct ways of understanding how society functions.


This article is an adaptation and expands on the original concepts presented in:

  • Feez; Susan. Montessori and Early Childhood. London: Sage, 2010
  • Ferreira; Cheryl. “Children’s House: The Prepared Environment As An Oasis” The NAMTA Journal 39.1 2014
  • Grazzini; Camillo. “Characteristics of the Child in the Elementary School” The NAMTA Journal 29.1 2004
  • “The Six Principles of the Montessori Prepared Environment Explained” NAMC Montessori Teacher Training Blog 2009
  • Orion; Judi. “Normalization Under Three” The NAMTA Journal 34.1 2009