“The first essential for the child’s development is concentration. It lays the whole basis for his character and social behavior. He must find out how to concentrate, and for this he needs things to concentrate upon. This shows the importance of his surroundings, for no one acting on the child from the outside can cause him to concentrate. Only he can organize his psychic life. None of us can do it for him. Indeed, it is just here that the importance of our schools really lies. They are places in which the child can find the kind of work that permits him to do this.”
-Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind
Maria Montessori was an Italian physician and educator who opened the first Casa dei Bambini in 1907. Widely know as the Children’s House in the United States, Raintree prefers the more accurate translation of the spirit of the word, or Children’s Home. The Montessori Casa is indeed prepared with the love and attention to detail which will not only see to the physical needs of the very young child, but will nourish the spirit of the young child as well. As the highly trained adult prepares this beautiful environment, we are not preparing classrooms, but children’s homes, for indeed these prepared environments do become their “home away from home.”
One of the first hallmarks of a well-prepared Montessori environment for young children is that its very physical appearance says, “This place is special. This place is for children. Children are valued here.” Our well-prepared environments are clean and inviting. All the furnishings are child sized. In addition to being clean and full of meticulously maintained materials in impeccable order, the environments are full of special touches that speak to the child’s interests and hold a beauty which touches the life of the spirit . . . live animals and lush plants to care for, beautiful art prints from many periods carefully displayed at the children’s eye level, simple sculptures, collections of sea shells, rocks or other objects from nature.
If the environment has been so prepared as to meet the inner needs of the child, one of the second hallmarks of a well prepared environment becomes evident. The visitor will notice a harmony and joy in the children of the Casa, whose ages span a three year period. For the Casa this is from age three to six. Children will be seen joyfully engaged in purposeful activity that leads them to independence, competence and confidence. They will be engaged in activities of caring for themselves and each other by grooming themselves, tying aprons for one another, polishing their own or each other’s shoes, etc. They will be engaged in the environment, driven by a love for it, helping to keep it clean, arranging fresh flowers to beautify it, and caring for the living things in it.
This text was written by Connie Black, a teacher trainer for the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) and one of Raintree’s founding teachers.