Montessori "work" and The Prepared Environment

Montessori Work and the Prepared Environment
“To have a vision of the cosmic plan, in which every form of life depends on directed movements which have effects beyond their conscious aim, is to understand the child’s work and be able to guide it better.” Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind

Why do we call play “work” in Montessori? We believe that play is the work of children. They are creating themselves through their activities and experience and we give their play meaning and respect by referring to it as work. Just as adults go to “work” young children also have work to do, the work of literally creating themselves…no small task! In a Montessori classroom one wants to see a lively engaged community working independently and together. Using the word “work” also allows children to control their experiences. In Montessori we encourage independence with regard to the ability to do tasks but also with the choice to not be interrupted. You will often hear a child in a Montessori classroom state, “this is my work” and that refers to their need or want to do that activity by themselves. Children learn to respect this request and learn the importance of slowing down and observing others in the process.

The Prepared Environment refers to a classroom that is beautiful in function and aesthetics. In a practical sense, it includes accessible and developmentally appropriate furniture and materials that match the abilities of the individuals in the community. There are mixed ages and abilities and these must be accounted for in the materials available for the children. The teacher (or guide) is also a piece of the prepared environment and must be prepared each morning for the children’s arrival. The teacher’s primary role is to connect the children with the materials and then, over time, fade into the background as the children’s independence grows. It is a delight to see a Montessori classroom buzzing with activity led by the children. Because there is a lack of a directed daily schedule, this allows the children to have the freedom to choose and direct their daily work. What are they drawn to do? What is it they want to work on for a particular morning? It might be very different that our (the adult’s) idea of what we think they might enjoy and if the classroom is prepared appropriately the children’s choice is perfect.