A human being will absorb the things within his environment. Like the foods which help form the physical being, the elements in an environment constitute the diet which helps form the emotional, spiritual and intellectual being. The prepared environment is extremely important to the child, for life is constructed through his interaction with his surroundings. In shaping the environment, we shape the child.
There is a great difference, however, in the way an adult and a child use their environment. The adult interacts with his environment in order to produce something, whereas the child interacts with his environment in order to develop. As an adult, material things are an aim for which to work. But for the child, who is not product-oriented, external things are useful only as long as they further his quest for knowledge; then he puts them aside.
If the environment and the objects within it are instruments in a child’s development, what then should be characteristic of a prepared environment if it is to support the developmental needs of the child?
The environment should be natural. The civilized environment of the adult is not natural to the child. One thing a child constantly has to overcome in an adult-prepared community is the adult-sized “everything.” A prepared environment should be scaled to his size.
Because children are sensorial beings, the environment should be aesthetically pleasing. Beauty is an invitation to a child. He will learn to accept things that are broken or dirty if they are a part of his environment. The prepared environment should be beautiful, so he may develop a respect for, and a love of, beauty and order.
The prepared environment should speak to the basic human need to be social and to be a part of a community. It must help the child to develop a sense of responsibility toward the other children in his environment.
Finally, the prepared environment must be designed to satisfy the child’s specific needs and tendencies for exploration, orientation, order, abstraction, exactness, repetition, perfection, work, communication and self-control.
Too often in our adult-sized world we overlook the child. In establishing a prepared environment for him, we must begin by taking the child into consideration. If he is to realize his full potential, we must create for him a world which considers his specific needs and supports his development.