A sparse environment of carefully chosen materials calls the child to work, concentration, and joy. A crowded or chaotic environment can cause stress and can dissipate a child's energy. As Montessori education becomes more popular more materials are produced which are labeled "Montessori" and one must be more and more careful in selection. Too many materials, or inappropriate materials can be worse than too few.

Birth to Age Six: Before the age of six, a child learns from direct contact with the environment, by means of all the senses, and through movement; the child literally absorbs what is in the environment. The toys and materials in the home and school for this period of development should be of the very best quality to call forth self-respect, respect and care from the child toward the environment, and the development of an appreciation of beauty.

Age Six to Twelve: From age six to twelve, "the age of the Imagination," the children produce so much -- charts, models, books, timelines, maps, books, plays, etc. -- that the environment must be continually pared down to the essentials so that the children continue to create. Sensorial-manipulative materials, such as multiplication bead frames, can also be used for older children, but should be left behind as soon as the child is ready to work in the abstract. The materials for this age are made during Montessori teacher training and are usually of no value to untrained teachers. However the philosophy of respecting the child's choice and following the direction of his interests is of value anywhere.

Age Twelve +: From age twelve to eighteen, the child's education becomes more traditional: books, computers, and the tools of the place where he may be apprenticing or doing social work. This is transition to adult life during which time the child learns to function in the real world. The environment now includes the farm, the public library, the work place, the large community.

At all ages, since the adult's special interests usually lie in one or two areas of study, we must be sure to introduce him to materials and lessons in all areas, all kinds of experiences, and not limit him to our own interests. In the words of the famous music educator Dr. Shinichi Suzuki, "What does not exist in the cultural environment will not develop in the child."