The Adolescent Prepared Environment

Recently I explained to the Middle School students that they are currently involved in launching a component of our program which will move us closer to Maria Montessori’s vision of the appropriate learning environment for adolescents. Our program has always implemented her ideas of giving the students real work opportunities, interactions in the larger society, and experience in production and exchange (commerce). Now, at our new school site, we will be able to include the land connection that Montessori prescribed for this age.

One of the indispensable principles of the Montessori method is the “prepared environment” – providing the appropriate setting and conditions to allow children the freedom to absorb or experience what is needed for their development at each special stage of self-construction.  In Children’s House (pre-primary) and elementary classrooms, much of the prepared environment is observable on the shelves where materials are arranged. Along with this is the preparation of the social environment and of the guide (teacher) whose role is to provide for the children’s independent learning and exploration with an understanding of their unique needs and tendencies.


Dr. Montessori stated that the appropriate prepared environment for the adolescent stage of development would prepare the individual to move from childhood into society, providing the opportunity to learn the value of commitment, responsibility, and cooperation, and building a sense of their own value in the community. The prepared environment should give them work experiences, both manual and intellectual, that will help them more fully understand the society they are about to enter, and to build their sense of self-sufficiency. An important element of the setting for adolescents is an outdoor environment, with work on the land serving as a starting point for studies in culture, the sciences, and human interaction. The land provides opportunity for physical work, and a sense of accomplishment as a result of the work. The outdoor environment also provides calm and quiet to satisfy the adolescent’s need for times of solitude and reflection.

Thus far our outdoor environment has provided our Middle School students with experiences in nature journaling in the field, planting kale and broccoli in the garden, setting up a compost bin, and harvesting seeds from donated milkweed pods for future planting. Plans are in the works for planting native wildflowers to help the declining population of pollinators; planting milkweed to create a waystation for monarch butterflies; and managing compost production for the school. As the students do their hands-on work outdoors, their studies in class add to their understanding of what they’re observing, nature’s cycles, and the interdependence of living organisms, including humans. Lessons on the needs of living things, classification of plants, the chemistry of photosynthesis, the microorganisms and macroorganisms involved in decomposition and composting, the study of the transition from the nomadic life of hunting and gathering to agriculture, and inventions of humans in the earliest ancient river civilizations are all relevant and support the students’ work on the land.

These are exciting times as Council Oak makes plans for expanding its agricultural program, involving students of all ages in planting, harvesting, and preparing produce for eating. The nature connection will surely build our awareness of and appreciation for our precious planet, and will provide our adolescents with a prepared environment that nurtures their development as members of a community and citizens of the world.


Council Oak Montessori School