The orientation is a very special tradition in our school. We hold it every year since we opened. These are three days introductory days from Wednesday to Friday, in which we symbolically send off the previous school year and transition to the new one. The regular schedule begins on the following Monday.
At the center of the orientation stands the preparation of the physical environment. Prepared environment is a most essential component of Montessori education. The classroom structure carries the deep scientific thought about the support of the social environment in the natural tendencies of the child to grow toward different stages of independence. The children’s House supports the natural development of psychological independence. The Elementary classroom supports the natural development of intellectual one. We, at the adolescent level, support the natural development of social independence.
For that sake, unlike primary and elementary Montessori teachers, we do not prepare a ready-made environment for the students, but prepare for them means to prepare the environment by themselves. We call this preparation “orientation.”
At the end of a school year, the students always do a substantial cleaning as the last organized activity before leaving for the summer. We do not make any changes in the physical space during the break, except maybe only having a professional cleaning of the carpets and upholstery. We keep the space as a time capsule, so that when the students return in late August for the orientation, they find as the school was on the last day of school.
The first day of the orientation is dedicated to taking apart the arrangement of the old classroom. After getting together for a few ceremonial words of welcome. We literally move every piece of furniture from its previous location. We do not set up anything, just disarranging the existing order. We usually do it until lunchtime.
There is a look of confusion on the students’ faces when they are done. This is the moment in which they realize that interior organization is human made not a natural given. They are also confronted by the impact of time on that organization. The layout of the furniture in school is nothing but an empty shell of a reality that existed last school year until it ended when Summer break started.
The disarray of furniture cannot evolve into a new organization as long as the memory of the old one is still fresh. Unintentionally the students try to reconstruct the past over and over again. Memories of the past vanish by the second orientation day. Around lunchtime, the students usually feel ready to reorient their imagination from the past to the future. They unleash their creativity and start to lay with many possible layouts of the furniture in the space. By the end of that day we have a new space that looks nothing like the previous ones. It always has a pattern. One year the pattern was imaginary rooms within one big office suite, another year the students wanted to feel together, another year all the furniture pieces related to each other with diagonals, one year they took an initiative to draw images they liked on the walls.
At the bottom line, the specific interior organization of the physical space is secondary to the essential process that takes place during the orientation days. The students start it as individuals and complete it as a community. They created their togetherness by preparing the environment in which they are going to spend the coming school year. Within a few weeks, they already take it as most natural as if it has been with us forever. However, they do not forget that they built it by themselves. They own it.