The child, the environment, the guide

Montessori is about materials, and about development, and about learning and relationships. It is about the balance of freedom and limits, about independence and interrelationship. It is about the cosmos and our place in it. It is about peace and joy and harmony.

Montessori is about the nature of the child. And the child does not exist in a vacuum, so Montessori is also about the way the child’s nature is shaped through interactions with the child’s environment.

Montessori is about beautiful spaces. But… the prepared environment is more than a beautiful space. It is a space which is created to both meet the child’s needs and to allow the child freedom to act and explore safely and in a way which enhances all kinds of development. It should also contain all the knowledge and wisdom we can fit in it – or rather, inspiration to seek out all the wisdom and knowledge available to us.

Children construct the adults they will become through every single interaction with their environment. Therefore, we as the preparers of the environment have a responsibility to give them the broadest possible environment, categorized in a way that shows the interrelationships between various elements and that calls to their nature at any given stage of development.

Montessori is about guiding rather than teaching. And learning to be a guide, Dr. Montessori told us is more than learning about the materials, freedom, limits, and independence. It is more than learning about the nature of the child and the prepared environment: “The real preparation for education is a study of one’s self. The training of the teacher who is to help life is something far more than a learning of ideas. It includes the training of character, it is a preparation of the spirit.” (The Absorbent Mind Ch. 12)

So here we have the child who by nature develops through interactions with the environment. We have a prepared environment and a prepared adult. And if only it were as easy as mixing those three ingredients and baking for 3 years. Instead, it is a constant dance of observation, reflection, study and action that is required of us to act as guides.

Dr. Montessori believed that the child in the process of construction needs guidance – and this is where Montessori differs greatly from un-schooling, Sudbury schools, and other approaches to education that put the agency solely on the child: Montessori is about the relationship between the child and the environment – and the environment includes the adult, the community, the family, the ideology, the culture, the time and place of the child. The child is the active agent, and the prepared adult is the guide – the living link to the prepared environment. That means that Dr. Montessori wanted us to be the spark, to inspire, to watch for the moment of interest so we can feed it, and through that, discover the nature of the child.

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