Montessori classrooms are often referred to as “prepared environments” because of the special care and attention that is given to fostering independence and intellectual development. The room is set up to facilitate hands-on learning, extended periods of concentration, and collaborative experiences. While students become deeply involved with their work, the teacher may be working with one or two children at a time, presenting a new lesson, or quietly observing the class at work. Dr. Montessori wrote, “The greatest sign of success for a teacher…is to be able to say, ‘The children are now working as if I did not exist.'” Montessori children tackle difficult challenges and mentor one another. The Montessori materials themselves are designed to incorporate this concept of independence. Many of them include a built-in “control of error,” so that children are not dependent upon adults for answers. Instead, the children’s engagement with the materials enables self-learning.
In the social environment, too, we celebrate independence. The Montessori classroom offers the freedom for interpersonal conflicts to arise and an environment uniquely well suited to solving problems harmoniously. Grace and courtesy lessons, role-playing, and discussions with the peace rose are all designed to give children the tools they need to resolve these conflicts when they arise.
Parents can empower children to be independent at home as well. Many Montessori children take full responsibility for dressing themselves, making their beds, preparing food, and cleaning up after themselves. Many parents modify their homes to allow for increased independence, such as placing low hooks on the wall for coats and backpacks, keeping dishes and snacks in low cabinets, and placing step stools at counters. With a little creativity, the home can become a prepared environment as well. As we do in the classroom, parents can also offer freedom within limits, allow for natural consequences, and offer encouragement rather than praise.
Dr. Montessori wrote, “Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.” In other words, foster independence and self-esteem will grow!