The baby is an active individual who actively strives to grow and learn. The horme, or unconscious urge, within the child works tirelessly. However, perfect development requires the right conditions. This includes a prepared environment that meets the child’s needs for emotional, intellectual, and hygienic stimulation, as well as physical growth. A child’s instincts play a role in their physical growth, nourishment, and psychological processes. Maria Montessori introduces the concept of the spiritual embryo, which represents the child’s innate potential and unconscious desire for self-construction and overall development.
This psychic pattern is created at the cost of the surrounding environment, so it is crucial to carefully prepare and provide this environment. It should be concise and attractive to the child as it supports their overall development. Maria Montessori developed an environment that encourages the emergence of this psychic embryo. However, she acknowledged that the environment alone cannot fully enable this transformation. To assist the child in achieving their maximum potential in all aspects of development, she granted them ample freedom.
Two factors are necessary for a child to react to their environment: “sensitive periods” and the “absorbent mind.” These factors enable a child to explore their surroundings using their senses, such as by touching and putting objects in their mouth. In order to facilitate this learning process, Maria Montessori included sensorial materials in the classroom. The “absorbent mind” is a process through which a child learns from their environment. This process occurs unconsciously from birth to age 3, and then consciously from ages 3 to 6.
In the absorbent mind, the child assimilates unconscious knowledge which later manifests in consciousness. As a result, an ideal environment is crucial in shaping these impressions. The prepared environment plays a secondary role in a child’s life, as they exercise personal choices with assistance from their psychic embryo. The prepared environment facilitates the fulfillment of these choices, supporting nourishment and development without dictating or creating. It is an intangible force present from birth. Maria Montessori affirms that a child’s pursuit of intelligence commences at birth.
During his development, the individual strives to overcome obstacles and is driven by an inner force called horme. The horme serves to stimulate and activate the individual, guiding their efforts towards their ultimate goal. The environment plays a crucial role in shaping and perfecting the individual, and as such, precise and determined guidance is necessary rather than vague constructive formulas.
In Hainstock’s book “The Essential Montessori” (Chapter 6, Page 81), Maria Montessori created an environment that supported a child’s self-construction. This environment was intentionally designed to align with the child’s sensitive periods and natural development laws. The sensitive period refers to a unique sensitivity that a child develops at birth. From birth until approximately age six, children possess an “absorbent mind,” which drives their unlimited motivation to acquire competence within their surroundings and master skills and knowledge.
Therefore, the environment is designed to support a child’s engagement with their sensitive periods, promoting independent learning and respecting their individual pace of development. It provides the necessary elements for optimal growth and offers a variety of materials in each Montessori classroom to assist children in achieving higher levels of abstract knowledge and imaginative thinking. The Montessori-prepared environment encourages children to explore using their senses in a hands-on manner.
In the Montessori classroom, children receive materials in different areas such as practical, sensorial, geographical, lingual, mathematical, etc. They are also encouraged to move freely within the classroom because movement and physical activity are highly regarded. Maria Montessori created her classroom with the purpose of assisting each child in achieving their maximum potential. Consequently, she permitted children to move without restrictions so that they could express themselves and steer their own personal growth by listening to their inner motivation.
In actuality, freedom denotes having authority over oneself, making individual decisions, and avoiding influence from adults. As stated by Paula Pork Lillard, freedom is necessary for a child to develop a sense of responsibility. Responsibility and self-discipline are interconnected. When a child feels accountable, they will naturally exercise self-control. However, unrestricted freedom to engage in purposeless activities is not endorsed. For this reason, teachers establish clear boundaries for children while guiding them to differentiate right from wrong, acceptable from unacceptable. The presence of freedom within educational environments facilitates the cultivation of inherent principles.
The child develops independence by acquiring self-help skills like buttoning, zipping, and putting on shoes. This also nurtures a sense of will, enabling the child to independently choose activities without needing permission from the teacher. For example, a two and a half year old has the freedom to select either the pink tower or engage in any spooning exercise available. Unlike conventional classrooms, children are actively encouraged to interact with their peers during class time. This promotes emotional and spiritual growth as well as interpersonal skill development.
Freedom is crucial for a child’s development as it meets their needs and gratifies their inner self. In a Montessori classroom, emphasis is placed on preserving structure and organization to establish a feeling of safety and comfort for the child. Orderliness in one’s life is essential for genuine contentment. The child’s mental order and cognitive system are disturbed when they encounter something disarranged. It is crucial to maintain impeccable order in all materials, guaranteeing cleanliness and proper upkeep. Upon entering the classroom, the child should discover all their materials prepared for use without any items missing.
The materials must be organized based on levels of complexity and from concrete to abstract. This sequencing helps the child’s growth as he will use materials that are appropriate for his stage of development. It also allows the child to complete work cycles. The child relies on his environment for guidance, so it is important that the environment remains consistent and specific. For instance, if the child cannot find a certain material in its designated place in the classroom, it can disrupt his mental well-being and cause feelings of insecurity.
According to Maria Montessori, it is important to have both Reality and Nature in the classroom. Montessori believed in exposing children to real and understandable things in their surroundings, rather than immersing them in a world of fantasy. This approach allows children to develop appropriate thinking skills by interacting with and responding to the real world. Montessori also emphasized the importance of “Nature” in classrooms, as it enables children to connect with their environment and organize their perceptions and imagination.
The presence of reality and nature in the classroom is beneficial for the child’s imagination and creativity. Having tangible objects around him sparks imaginative play and brings forth a multitude of ideas. For instance, the classrooms contain authentic items like jugs and glasses for pouring activities, as well as gardens and pets. Additionally, the classrooms are visually captivating, with their simplicity, lack of clutter, relaxing ambiance, and vibrant colors, creating a warm atmosphere.
The cleanliness and order of the environment is what gives it its essential charm. Everything is in its proper place, dusted, and brightly cheerful. Montessori classrooms are designed to be inviting, helping children respond to their natural inclination to work. According to E.M. Standings, Montessori classrooms should have low windows with curtains and decorated cupboards. The materials in the classroom are vibrant in color, creating a bright and cheerful atmosphere. The materials used in the Montessori classroom are one of the most important aspects of the prepared environment. The way children react to different objects and how often they use them gradually helps determine which apparatus should be eliminated, modified, or accepted for use in our schools.” – Maria Montessori, The Discovery of the Child (Chapter 6, Page 99)
In the classroom, the materials must meet the child’s inner needs and assist in their self-construction. Maria Montessori ensured that these materials were within the child’s reach by placing them on low shelves. The child is free to select any material they desire, but they must adhere to specific guidelines before using them. These materials should be purposeful, stimulating, and inviting, varying in shapes and sizes. Additionally, the child is encouraged to touch and feel the materials.
Physical contact with Montessori materials helps children develop their senses and understand different qualities such as size, shape, and weight. Each material isolates a specific quality, allowing the child to focus and develop concentration. Montessori materials include sensorial, didactic, and error control materials. Children can learn from these materials by correcting their mistakes on their own. In the classroom, there is only one of each material, teaching patience and waiting for their turn. These materials indirectly prepare children for future learning by providing cultural lessons. They are sequenced from easy to difficult and concrete to abstract, supporting intellectual growth. Children have ample time to use and repeat activities with the materials to gain full control and understanding. Purposeful knowledge is gained through constructive engagement with the materials.
In a Montessori setting, the teacher presents the material individually to the child, promoting concentration. The material is readily available to the child, fostering a love for work. According to Maria Montessori, the teacher assumes a passive role while the child takes an active role in gaining mastery over the material. Montessori emphasized the importance of community and socialization for every child, allowing interaction among children to develop their social skills. This emphasis was aimed at preventing feelings of loneliness and insecurity in the children.
The implementation of vertical grouping allowed the children to communicate and collaborate with each other, leading to the development of cooperation skills. This also fostered team building among them and enhanced their leadership abilities. The teacher observed that as a result, the children started empathizing with one another and offering mutual support. To create a positive classroom environment, there was no competition or pressure present. According to Elizabeth G. Hainstock’s book The Essential Montessori (Chapter 6, Page 80), Montessori’s classrooms aim to expose children to materials and experiences that aid in their intellectual, physical, and psychological development. By including children from different age groups in the class, moral support, team building, and harmony were encouraged. Ultimately, this approach resulted in the children gaining high self-esteem.
The classroom was specifically designed to create an environment where competition and pressure are eliminated, giving the child the freedom to work at their own pace and take as much time as they need. With child-size materials present, a feeling of security and belonging is established, enabling them to confidently carry out their responsibilities with ease. Additionally, the consistent order in the class promotes the child’s psychological growth and emotional strength.
Furthermore, in the classroom there are didactic materials that are auto-correcting and focused on a single concept. The child has the ability to repeat exercises multiple times, enhancing their control over the material. These materials are designed to be sequential and logical, guiding the child from concrete to abstract and from simple to complex. As a result of using these materials, the child also develops mental order, which aids in their intelligence development. Additionally, the classroom environment promotes freedom for the child, allowing them to develop their physical attributes by encouraging movement.
Through movement, the child reacts to the external environment and engages in personal activities, improving their fine motor skills. The freedom of movement allows the child to express their creative energy and feel emotionally empowered. Precautionary measures are taken for hygiene, keeping the classrooms clean and tidy. Self hygiene is taught to the children, instilling a sense of responsibility towards their environment. The child’s development depends on their personal effort and engagement, both physically and mentally. It is crucial for the child to recall and maintain clear impressions, as the ego’s intelligence is built upon these sense impressions. Maria Montessori discovered that the prepared environment is vital in stimulating the child’s love for learning and their curiosity about their surroundings.Maria Montessori believed that providing children with a rich and purposeful environment can lead to their independence, discipline, self-motivation, improved concentration, and cooperation with others. Consequently, she aimed to build upon these qualities in order to foster confidence and responsibility in children.
According to the text, the environment plays a crucial role in shaping a child’s development. It acts as a foundation for academic growth, fostering independence through provision of materials and responsibility. The environment facilitates the child’s capability building, while also eliminating any hindrances. Moreover, it promotes purposeful activity to support the child’s overall growth and development.