According to Maria Montessori, a prepared adult is an individual who believes in, observes, and develops a child’s potential based on the work that he or she is captivated to do. The prepared adult is quiet but lively and can invite children to engage in work. To encourage a child to find a piece of work that attracts him or her, the environment plays an important role. An organized setting, also known as the prepared environment, allows a child the freedom to explore, work on materials of interest and promotes their independence regardless of the child’s abilities, needs or age.
Hence, the prepared adult’s priority is to pay attention to the child’s immediate environment given its indirect impact on the child. The prepared adult is responsible for ensuring that the child’s environment is clean and tidy, whereby the materials are easily accessible to the child and arranged in order from simple to complex. Materials are also to be aesthetically pleasing and in pristine condition with nothing missing and ready for the child’s use.
The prepared environment is thus the result of the prepared adult. One cannot happen without the other. Both aspects work in tandem for a child’s holistic development, be it physical or cognitive. How is a child supported in their development, specifically, their social aspect then?
Maria Montessori famously described the prepared environment as a mirror of the child’s social life. That is because the prepare d environment by the prepared adult creates an atmosphere that is conducive to concentration. Maria Montessori believed that concentration was essential for “character formation” and was the basis for a child’s social development. It is only through concentration that a child can organize his or her “psychic life”, which cannot be determined by anyone else. It is through working with the materials that the child can develop his or her concentration.
On that point, a child is believed to work on materials that they are keen on. The prepared environment supports the child’s social development by giving him or her the opportunity to freely choose work that they like, which contributes to the construction of an individual’s identity which influences how he or she gains skills to interact with others and process their actions. Coupled with the presence of materials that are purposefully present in few quantities even if there are many children, a child is taught to respect others by showing patience and restraint. A child also gains socially acceptable behaviours like turn taking.
The freedom to explore the prepared environment also supports a child’s social development by permitting and encouraging the practice of social interactions with others. As materials from simple to complex are readily available for the child’s use, a less capable child may at one point be exposed to materials beyond their understanding. The child may be intrigued by the more complex materials tackled by others and seek to comprehend them by observing and asking questions. When answers are provided by the intended party, an exchange of words is created, and children learn how to communicate. Even if the child is unable to understand at the end and return to their work of interest, this mutual engagement allows children to note their limitations; learn how to respect each other’s efforts, solve problems, and help one another if necessary.