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The Prepared Environment

As Nadine has been preparing for September, she remembers her time as a classroom assistant and how she’s progressed.

She’s adapted over the years and now has a tested method on how she sets her classroom up. She shares how and why her class has a particular order and ethos.

When I first began working with children I was a room assistant in a nursery school. I knew the resources had their own place to live but I didn’t know why. I would watch the room leader, Emma, who later became my first mentor, as she would line the tower cubes up in height order from smallest to largest, she’d neatly fold the place mats and position them at the end of each shelf and she’d ensure that every item had its correct place. What I hadn’t appreciated was that this wasn’t a standard nursery, it was a Montessori nursery. It wasn’t until I began my own journey, training to be a Montessori Directress that I appreciated the value of the environment. 
Maria Montessori, the founder of this form of learning actually called it The Prepared Environment and I was soon to discover how it had its own independent role within a child’s education. As I say, I had watched Emma take the time to look after the environment but what became very apparent was that I wasn’t the only one watching. The children were too. It always amazed me how quickly the children would join her, without prompting or being told, they would see her taking time to tidy and they would follow suit. I soon learnt that within a Montessori school the environment is seen to be another teacher because there is always a built in control of error within every single task, so that even when working independent of an adult the child will still achieve the learning objective. This was mind blowing to me and something that I strived to incorporate into my own practice. 
Now, years later I have gone on to become an International Montessori Directress along with completing a second degree, a GTP, an NQT year and an NPQSL and the environment is always an area that I take a great deal of time to not only set up but keep inspirational. It’s different to where I began all those years ago as I’m now teaching older children yet I continue to value the environment as a teacher in its own right, a showcase of modelling. Many teachers use wall displays as places to show off work and I think this is wonderful. I used to do this too. I could see how the children developed a true sense of pride and achievement in the work they created however I also found that I ran out of wall space. We’d use the whiteboard during a lesson for example Maths, make notes and modelling techniques but at the end of the lesson it would be rubbed off and reused for a different lesson, perhaps Music. Then when we returned to Maths the next day we’d have lost helpful points from the previous learning. Yes it’s important to recap but I found that recreating points from earlier lessons before building upon them was hugely time consuming. 
So I made the decision to change things around. My class and I still create works of art and creative displays. Gosh I loose hours trailing through online images, magpying ideas and creating magnificent showcases of their work however I only do that in the corridors. All display boards within the classroom are used to support the children’s learning. In my own way I am creating a prepared environment.
The Maths boards show a clear, step by step process of what we’ve been working on so the children can work at their own pace and I can support each of them in a differentiated way. The English board contains not only the Tier 2 and 3 vocabulary we’ve been learning but also the relevant SPaG that has been the focus, linked to the rich text that is at the heart of our lessons. There is a spelling board which grows each week with the spelling rules we learn as a class. The Phonics board grows daily with the new graphemes that are taught, while the book corner supports the children’s reading with intriguing questions for the children to explore further.
Even the role play area supports the children’s learning as it’s a teacher box with a second copy of my vital teaching resources such as a register folder, purple pen, pointy stick, set of phonic flashcards and well done stickers. We all know how children absolutely love to play teacher, especially during wet play however I’m very mindful of my resources being organised and ready for the next stage of learning. By providing them with their own flash card set it gives them the opportunity to cement the learning they have already made, in a fun way with their peers.

At first I was dubious about moving presentation displays outside but I’ve been astonished by the positive responses I’ve received. Parents and families visiting the schools enjoy seeing examples of work that they wouldn’t necessarily have seen otherwise because they wouldn’t have walked into the classroom for fear of disturbing the learning. Whilst during parents evenings, which is always based within the classroom, the children have developed a sense of pride in being able to use the working walls to explain in detail how they achieved the learning that is being showcased in the corridor. 
In that first nursery school where Emma was my mentor, my Principal told me Emma was a swan, gracefully gliding around the room, always appearing to be in complete control whereas I was more of a drowning frog. Now I feel, I may not be a graceful swan keeping The Prepared Environment immaculate but I’m definitely a lot closer to it… perhaps I’m a duck ☺

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The author

Nadine has worked with children for 17 years having originally trained as an International Montessori Directress and then moving into state schools by completing a GTP. Nadine is passionate about making the most out of every day, either at school or with her two young children. She has previously written articles that have been published in various magazines including the TES.

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