The Prepared Environment & Montessori Learning Avenues

Dr. Maria Montessori’s vision for the ideal classroom was to create what is called a “prepared environment” for maximum success in learning, exploration & growth.  Her model for the of prepared environment is a calm, ordered and highly-structured learning environment where children are capable of freely choosing their own activities in a self-directed manner.

In contrast to the discipline-driven classrooms in traditional education, in a Montessori preschool teachers act as guides for the children, helping facilitate learning independent learning and exploration. Rather than strictly directing children to undertake specific tasks at specific times, Montessori students are provided “freedom within limits”, where the structure in the environment itself directs their attention to learning activities. Teachers do not need to force children to fit into a learning mold, because the environment itself is the path to growth and skills mastery – allowing teachers to prepare the environment and guide students while the children themselves maintain the structure, order, and harmony of the prepared environment.

In the Montessori prepared environment, children are given the freedom to explore and develop their unique potential, and materials are organized by subject into avenues of learning. Children have access to the right tools at the right time, for a range of activities beginning with concrete learning activities and growing more abstract as they master fundamental skills.

Within the learning avenues, the Montessori classrooms offers an array of materials designed to match a variety of different developmental levels and appeal to the unique interests of each child. The learning materials in a prepared environment are organized on child-height, shelves for accessibility, and the furniture, fixtures, tools, and utensils in a Montessori classroom are all designed for children as well. Hence, the prepared environment is made accessible to children, and designed to foster independent growth to the greatest extent possible.

The Six Principles Of The Prepared Environment

Dr. Maria Montessori outlined six guiding principles for the Prepared Environment, which include: Freedom; Structure and Order; Beauty; Nature and Reality; Social Environment; and Intellectual Environment.

1. Freedom

One of the most important goals of the Montessori prepared environment is to facilitate freedom of choice, which fosters self-directed learning. By giving children the freedom to explore, move, interact socially, or work by themselves, the prepared environment supports children in working independently, seeking out materials and opportunities as required.

Dr. Montessori believed freedom was an essential part of a healthy learning environment, and that children required freedom to follow their own impulses to seek knowledge and master skills. The freedom provided in the prepared environment helps children develop a positive relationship with the concept of work, helps them become motivated self-starters who forge their own path in the world.

2. Structure and Order

The child’s freedom in the Montessori prepared environment can only exist because of the structure and order in the environment itself. This is the core idea behind the phrase “freedom within limits”. For example, learning materials are stored on their proper places on shelves, and children put materials away and clean up after themselves in their practical life learning avenue. This supports Maria Montessori’s belief that a structured environment is required during the early sensitive period to assist children in internalizing structure into their own mind.

The need for structure & order in the prepared environment does not mean that the classroom is a stagnant place. Oftentimes, Montessori classrooms can sometimes seem quite hectic, but this is typically observed by people unfamiliar with the inherent structure of the environment and the routines that help preserve that structure during the day. Change does happen – and it is very welcome. However, in the Montessori prepared environment it’s important to carefully consider changes before implementing them to avoid disrupting the children’s independence or self-directed productivity.

3. Beauty

Dr. Maria Montessori was a firm believer in creating an attractive, inviting learning environment that welcomes children in and entices them to touch, explore, and move. She believed in exploratory, hands-on learning, so beauty means having an uncluttered and well-maintained environment that inspires calmness and harmony. In the Montessori prepared environment, beauty helps reinforce structure and order, and offers predictability without being boring.

Montessori schools rely on structure, simplicity and the attractive presentation of the learning materials to showcase the beauty of this self-directed method of learning. The same beauty can be found at an in-home Montessori school as you’ll find in a large, newly built educational facility – and both prepared environments create an atmosphere that is comfortable, familiar, and conducive to the Montessori learning experience.

4. Nature and Reality

Dr. Montessori had a deep respect nature, and strongly felt that that natural world was inspirational for children’s learning. She advocated for outdoor time for children, and suggested that Montessori teachers should get children out of the classroom for walks, games, and fresh air. The ability to spent time in the natural environment and interact with it harmoniously is deeply ingrained into Montessori education, and provides a good balance to the indoor learning environment.

The role of nature in the prepared environment is also the reason that Montessori schools use natural materials are used as much as possible, such as wood, metal, bamboo, cotton, and glass, rather than relying on plastics. Dexterity work utilizes natural materials like grains of sand and kernels of corn, and practical life activities include tasks such as cutting fruit. The need for child-sized furniture, utensils, and other objects is built upon functional needs such as this.

5. Social Environment

Social development in the mixed-age environment is a key part of the Montessori experience, and the prepared environment is designed to encourage freedom of interaction. Where this freedom exists, children learn to work easily with others, and compassion and empathy for others as well. The social environment in a Montessori school encourages work and play in groups, as well as recognizing the need for independent alone-time as children focus their energies on mastering new tasks.

Social interactions in a Montessori school are never forced – instead, children are given the freedom to interact with others through work, rest, and play. This fosters a camaraderie among the children, and develop trust with each other as well as providing mentorship and emotional support. This prepared environment also helps to provide children with positive conflict-resolution skills, and creates peer-level relationships that help children interact with  empathy rather than envy.

6. Intellectual Environment

The intellectual principle of the prepared environment seeks to create a mentally enriching environment for children where they can expand and develop their intellects through the Montessori curriculum.  Montessori schools are filled with learning materials and activities to foster engagement and growth, and children understand that the classroom is a place for learning.

The purpose of the Montessori environment is to nourish and enrich children’s development in a holistic manner, with intellectual growth being only a component of that. In a Montessori environment that values all of Maria’s Montessori principles of the prepared environment, educators will be able to guide children through developmentally appropriate learning materials that allow children to fully develop their unique potential.

The Four Learning Avenues Of The Prepared Environment

Now that we’ve discussed the guiding principles of the prepared environment, it’s worth exploring how the materials are organized within that environment to support the educational needs and goals of the children. In a Montessori preschool classroom, materials are organized into four major avenues of learning, which are: Practical Life, Sensorial, Language, and Mathematics.

Practical Life

The practical life avenue involves activities and exercises in the areas of caring for the self, caring for the environment, grace & courtesy and the movement of objects. The focus is on real, practical tasks from daily living, such as pouring and scrubbing, washing dishes, setting a table, sewing and gardening, or practicing grace and courtesy, and done with real, everyday tools, often scaled down for smaller hands.

Practical life avenue lessons help children develop their motor skills, improve hand-eye coordination, and problem solving skills. They also teach important preparatory lessons for daily tasks that children will do throughout their lives, and help to help build the child’s confidence & self-esteem at being able to “do it themselves” as they master everyday life skills.

Sensorial Development

The sensorial area in a Montessori classroom focuses on lessons that help children develop the five senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. Early childhood education studies have shown that sensory learning is a fundamental part of early brain development, and helps build essential neurological connections.

The learning materials are designed to help children refine their sensory perceptions and assist them in developing from concrete to abstract learning. Montessori’s sensorial materials provide hands-on experience for the senses and are designed to facilitate self-correction of errors, which helps children to learn independently.

Development of Language

The language avenue contains a variety of lessons that are designed to introduce children to spoken and written language, and begins by introducing them to letters and sounds, along with teaching them to differentiate between consonants, vowels, and key sounds.

Sandpaper letters, metal insets, vocabulary cards, sound boxes, the moveable alphabet, rhyme cards, and sentence building cards are all tools that are used to assist language instruction, and color-codings on the letters and texture on sandpaper cards assists with multi-sensorial learning as well. These skills open the door to reading, writing, and grammar skills.

Early Preparation of the Mathematical Mind

Dr. Maria Montessori believed that way that children manipulate symbols and information naturally encourages them to build competency in mathematics, and that the acquisition of mathematical principles is driven by the desire to absorb, manipulate, classify, order, sequence, and abstract knowledge during the sensitive periods.

The mathematics avenue teaches concepts such as numeration, place value, fractions, and the basic operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, and uses classic Montessori materials such as golden beads, number rods, and spindle boxes. This avenue also teaches basic scientific principles and helps children understand basic principles of space, zoology, geology, biology, earth science, and much more.


Dr. Maria Montessori believed that creating a structured, harmonious space that provides children with the freedom to explore, grow & master new skills was essential for self-directed learning. This is what she called the prepared environment, and within it materials are organized into four learning avenues for practical life, sensorial development, the development of language and the early preparation of the mathematical mind.

The structure of the prepared environment and the avenues it contains are staples of Montessori schools around the world, and are critical to the successful implementation of the Montessori method. The materials used are specifically designed to meet children’s developmental needs through the different stages of early childhood development, and by working independently children develop confidence and self-esteem as they move from concrete to abstract concepts and master new skills.