What is . . . the Prepared Environment?
In Montessori classrooms, a lot of attention is given to the way the classroom looks. Teachers carefully consider where to put the furniture and rugs, what to hang on the walls, how to arrange the Montessori materials on the shelves and even which baskets and trays to use. The result is called the Prepared Environment, because the environment has been arranged just so in order to encourage independence in learning, a sense of order, the development of social skills and a feeling of peacefulness. In general, the teacher arranges the room so that the children can easily and independently find what is needed for meaningful and productive activity; materials are organized by area (such as sensorial or language) and are placed on the shelves in a left-right, concrete-abstract, simple-complex order. Also, care is given to arranging the furniture so that children may move freely around the classroom while maintaining order and safety. Finally, the emphasis on natural materials such as wood, metal and ceramics (rather than unnaturally-colored plastic) makes the materials beautiful and substantial, so that the children will naturally value and care for them. The result of the Prepared Environment is that your children are supported in their independent and meaningful activity, allowing them to grow physically, emotionally and intellectually, without barriers.
How the Prepared Environment Grows With Your Child
(For background on the Prepared Environment, please see last week’s email.)
Naturally, the Prepared Environment looks different at each new developmental level, as the needs of the child change. In the Birth-Three classrooms, bonding between the child and her primary caregiver is essential, so each room has a special place just for that. Shelves, chairs and tables are also just the right size for toddlers to learn how to use them independently. Plenty of open floor space also gives these new crawlers and walkers lots of opportunities to practice their new locomotor skills safely.
As your child moves up to the Children’s House classroom, you will find organized shelves full of attractive materials, appealing to your child’s growing sense of order. Each “work” is on a tray with everything needed to complete the activity, so that the child learns how to carry a tray to the table, independently complete the activity, and return it to the shelf, ready for the next person. Learning how to wait and to share is also an important lesson at this age; therefore, you will find only one of everything, setting up many situations for children to practice these important skills.
The independence of the Elementary child becomes even more pronounced, as they are expected to say goodbye to mom or dad in car line (or even at the bus stop!) and enter school on their own, coming up to their classroom, taking care of their belongings and preparing themselves for their morning independently. They also are quite social at this age, so tables and chairs are arranged in flexible groupings to accommodate group and individual work. Finally, frequent field trips extend the Elementary classroom beyond its physical borders to encourage the growing curiosity of the Elementary psyche.
What can parents do to support the Montessori environment at home?
No matter what the age of your child, you can  support the development of independence at home. Ultimately, this will help your child grow into an adult who can not only take care of herself, but also understands the importance of contributing to the community.
clothing and laundry
 – Allow your child to choose their own clothes and dress themselves each day, as much as they are able. Check the weather report together to help them learn about appropriate clothing.
 – Require children to put dirty clothes in the hamper/dirty laundry.
 – Even young children can help you sort laundry by color or type, and help to fold clean laundry.
 – Elementary children can learn how to do their own laundry, with supervision.
dishes and eating
 – Put child-size dishes, cups and utensils where they can be easily accessed.
 – Involve your child in preparing food (washing produce, peeling, chopping, mixing) and, as they grow older, let them choose the menu one day a week – and prepare it!
 – Even young children can take their own dishes to the sink, help wash dishes, and help to empty the dishwasher. Elementary children can do these things independently.
care of environment
 – Require your child to put away their belongings. Providing a special shelf makes this easier.
 – Include your child in sweeping, vacuuming, and dusting.
 – Fill a spray bottle with club soda and let them clean mirrors and windows.
 – Have them feed pets and water plants.