The environment is of the utmost importance in an authentic Montessori school. It is designed to meet the needs, abilities, interests, and development of children in each class. With a flexible environmental model, modification can be made to the classroom’s physical layout to best meet the children’s needs. Lessons, or “Work”, are taught with child-friendly materials in a hands-on approach resulting in the right mix of play and discovery. We call this the Prepared Environment.
An integral part of the environment is the community that resides within. Montessori Method builds a “family” unit within each class. As with most families, there is a range of ages that interact. This is also the case in Montessori classrooms where mixed age groupings allow older students to assist younger students and younger students can observe and learn from their older classmates. Children remain together for several years, with fully-developed students moving on to the next age grouping when they demonstrate readiness to do so. Children learn at their own pace and students are not compared against one another.
Under the guidance of Montessori-trained educators, children are offered freedom within limits. They can select from “work” presented to them by the instructor. “Work” consists of a variety of hands-on learning activities designed to foster interest, self-motivation, and self-discipline. Educators work closely with students over the course of weeks and sometimes months to develop their mastery of the lessons and evaluate their readiness for the next.
While Structure and Order may seem at odds with Freedom Within Limits, the two work together to support the students’ growing independence, confidence, focus, respect for order, and sense of security. Structure and Order in the Montessori classroom reflects a sense of structure and order in the universe. By using the Montessori classroom as a microcosm of the universe, the child begins to internalize the order surrounding him, thus making sense of the world in which he lives. By making the classroom environment and learning materials easily accessible and organized, students are empowered to find and utilize the tools they need. They also understand the value returning those tools to their proper places and cleaning up their workplace brings to a consistent and organized learning experience.
Montessori Method also encourages the development of “Universal Values”. The individual is considered whereby the physical, social, emotional, spiritual, cognitive, and aesthetic needs and interests of the child are all equally important and must be inseparable. Educators focus on the development of appropriate patterns of polite behavior and instilling basic universal values within the core of the child’s personality. These values include self-respect, acceptance of the uniqueness of different people, kindness, compassion, peacefulness, honor, and individual responsibility. Children are encouraged to treat one another with kindness and respect. Insults and aggressive behaviors tend to be rare and are unacceptable.