In The Absorbent Mind, Dr. Montessori said:
… [E]ducation is not something which the teacher does, but that it is a natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being. It is not acquired by listening to words, but by virtue of experiences in which the child acts on his environment. The teacher’s task is not to talk, but to prepare and arrange a series of motives for cultural activity in a special environment made for the child.
This quote illustrates clearly the intent behind having the teacher prepare an adequate environment as their most important job.
The prepared environment is one of many aspects that separates Montessori education from traditional education. It includes keeping materials out on shelves for students, keeping the room neat and organized, and much more. One must also consider that because Montessori classrooms are mixed-age groups, the materials that are out on shelves will be below, at, and above where a given student may be.
The beauty of having mixed-aged classes is that a student is able to receive lessons at their ability and interest level, rather than solely on their grade level. In the prepared environment, a teacher has the room set up to accommodate all levels of learners. When a student has access to developmentally appropriate work that interests them, they will want to learn more.
Students in the second plane of development crave mental independence. Students want to be in charge of their own learning, and by having clean, organized shelves at their level, it encourages students to continue their work, and thus keeps them focused on positive encounters, which helps the class run smoothly. Another aspect of the prepared environment includes facilities that are accessible to students. One might see a sink, kitchen area, and seating that is easily accessible to students of all ages and abilities. The walls of the classroom are decorated with intent, and the tables are child-sized. The teacher wants to not only teach students independence, but also encourage it wherever possible.