In creating the "prepared environment," Dr. Montessori wanted to optimize the conditions under which children teach themselves and learn independently. The goal is for children to become self-reliant, active learners.
In the Montessori "prepared environment" there is a variety of activity as well as a great deal of movement. In a preschool classroom, for example, a three-year old may be washing while a four-year- old is composing words and phrases with letters known as the movable alphabet, and a five-year old is performing multiplication using a specially designed set of beads. In an elementary classroom, a small group of six-to-nine-year-olds may be using a time line to learn about extinct animals while another child chooses to work alone, analyzing a poem using special grammar symbols. Sometimes an entire class may be involved in a group activity, such as storytelling, singing, or movement.
In the calm, ordered space of the Montessori "prepared environment," children work on activities of their own choice at their own pace. They experience a blend of freedom and self-discipline in a place especially designed to meet their developmental needs.
Each of the materials in a Montessori prepared environment is designed to teach a lesson and isolate error so the child can correct it by himself. Materials usually belong to a succession of lessons, which, in the beginning, are simple and concrete but progressively become more complex and abstract.
Teachers in the Montessori prepared environment are trained to "follow the child" where ever that child's interest leads, and to build upon that interest by introducing new materials after mastery of the old is demonstrated.
The style of teaching in a Montessori "prepared environment" is quite different from that of the teacher in a traditional classroom, who imparts the same lesson to all the children at the same time. In a Montessori "prepared environment," the teacher's role is more that of a guide or director of the many different concurrent learning projects. To do this effectively requires special training to observe each child for signs of readiness, and to select the appropriate material to introduce.