"Casa" – Our Preschool & Kindergarten Program
Preschool through Kindergarten children are in a receptive and explosive stage of learning. Maria Montessori called this phenomenon the period of the “absorbent mind.” The "absorbent mind" refers to the brain’s capacity to take in information and sensations from the world that surrounds it and create meaning from them. Three to six year olds are eager to self-construct knowledge, skills, and social graces through hands-on learning and community interactions.
The Casa (preschool through kindergarten) classroom is a specially designed environment rich with materials that serve to meet and enhance the natural learning tendencies of children between the ages of 3-6. The classroom is beautifully and specifically laid out in a precise manner that invites children to discover and interact with the materials that are designed to encourage understanding and mastery.
Our Montessori credentialed teachers are uniquely trained and educated to observe and support children as they develop skills and intellect. Through observations, our teachers adapt the children’s learning experiences so that knowledge can be personally constructed.
Our children’s day begins with a three-hour work cycle. This period of time is devoted to independent work and to individualized or small group lessons provided by the teacher. The classroom is also composed of mixed age groupings that serve to enhance peer relationships and mentorship. This provides an atmosphere of caring and strengthens leadership skills. It also mirrors the real world in which people work and socialize with people of various ages, beliefs and ways of being.
The following are some of the main areas of activity in the classroom aimed at fostering independence, collaboration, and the development of mental muscles:
Language development is woven throughout every aspect of the classroom through rich, oral language opportunities, such as conversations, stories, and poetry. The children also work extensively with various didactic materials, such assandpaper letters, which allow them to trace or manipulate the letters of the alphabet while learning the phonetic sound each makes. The activities in this area also include word building materials, writing, the study of grammar, and the classroom library.
Casa children have access to concrete mathematical materials that represent all types of mathematical quantities. By combining, separating, sharing, counting, and comparing this equipment, children demonstrate to themselves the basic operations of mathematics. The manipulation of these materials is intended to foster a solid understanding of basic mathematical principles that prepares children for the abstract reasoning and problem-solving capabilities they will need later.
Science and Nature Studies
The children are encouraged to strengthen their connection to nature as a foundation for a lifelong interest in the sciences. Science is an integral part of our curriculum and incorporates topics from Botany, Zoology, Physical Science, Astronomy, Geology, Ecology, Earth Science, and Weather. It is an investigative process that, among other things, represents a way of life - a clear thinking approach to gathering information and problem solving.
Geography and Culture
Large maps of different continents are available for the children to manipulate. Children eventually learn the names of different countries as well as various facts about each one. The maps provide concrete illustrations of many geographical facts. Children also learn the common land formations. The children gain an awareness of the world around them by exploring other countries, their customs, religions, food, music, climate, language, and animals.
For young children, there is something special about tasks that an adult considers ordinary - for example, washing dishes, making juice, and polishing shoes. In the practical life area of the classroom, children take part in activities that allow them to act like their older role models. Such activities helps children perfect their coordination and refine their motor control; continue to learn grace and courtesy, and care for themselves and their environment; lengthen their span of concentration; pay attention to details; learn good working habits as they finish each task and put away all the materials before beginning another activity.
Sensorial materials help develop the discriminatory power of all the senses. Children build cognitive skills and learn to order and classify impressions by touching, seeing, smelling, tasting, listening, and exploring the physical properties of their environment. Through beautifully and precisely designed materials children are also able to discover mathematical relationships through manipulation.
Physical Development and Health
We want our students to understand, appreciate, and adopt a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise, a proper diet, and intelligent choices regarding personal health and hygiene. We provide students with opportunities to facilitate self-care, choose healthy food, and work on their fine and gross motor development, which areimportant elements in reaching these goals. We also promote movement in the classroom. Through freedom of movement, children learn to respect other people and to self-monitor how their own actions impact others.
Peace education is as vital an element in our curriculum as any other area, and incorporates human relations and conflict resolution skills, nonviolence, leadership training and cooperative teamwork and communication skills. The “Peace Table” is full of interesting and calming objects from around the world, like smooth stones, or tiny flowers, for children to touch and hold. There may be large cards with reminders of different calming and soothing breathing techniques, or books on how to resolve conflict. At the Peace Table teachers model for children how to be good listeners and forge mutually agreeable solutions to conflicts. The goal is that children could have these delicate conversations on their own or as mediators for their friends. The peace table is also a place where children can choose to go to enjoy a peaceful moment alone.
Grace and Courtesy
The Montessori Sensorial shelf is another popular area of the classroom with so much to explore and discover. Each scientifically designed material isolates a quality found in the world, such as color, size, shape, etc. which focuses the attention on that one aspect. Also available are the Pink Tower, Cylinder Blocks, Color Tablets, Knobless Cylinders, Smelling Bottles, Binomial Cube, Trinomial Cube and much more to explore through the senses!
Although each Montessori environment is special and unique, they do resemble one another with respect to how the environment is arranged. Every Montessori preschool classroom is divided into the five main Montessori subject areas: Practical Life, Sensorial Development, Language, Mathematics, and Culture & Sciences, and my classroom is no different. Additionally, there is usually an area set aside for artistic projects and outdoor area for play and further experiential learning.
The third year of the 3-6 year old Montessori cycle is often referred to as the culminating one: It is when our oldest children take everything they have learned in their toddler and preschool experiences and show mastery by teaching concepts and skills to their younger peers. These children become the “leaders” of the classroom and assume guiding roles, similar to that of a teacher. Through presentations and helping others, kindergarten students continue to build their independence and autonomy. They continue to develop such skills that may be missed in other educational settings and that will serve them well beyond our walls.
Yes, children who have gone through our programs will have an explosive cognitive burst in their kindergarten year. It is not uncommon to have children leave us as fluid readers or with a strong grasp of place value. However, children do not only walk away with strong academic skills, but also with foundational life skills that cannot be seen and that are the building blocks to any future learning AND interactions with others.
When you walk into a classroom with a third year student, you will see that child supporting the efforts of a younger one – that older child might be showing a younger friend where a work lives or how to clean up a spill. That older child now consciously or subconsciously knows that mistakes do happen and that he or she can rely on his or her own know-how and creativity to problem-solve. This child will present not only how to manipulate the materials and physically make sense of a situation, but also will demonstrate the calm and clarity required to overcome an obstacle. This practice of communication, ingenuity and resilience in front of younger peers becomes a part of the older child’s innermost fabric.
The results of keeping a child for the third year of what is intended to be a three-year cycle is of no surprise to us. Dr. Maria Montessori’s work and brain research since, have often grouped the development of children’s brains from three to six years old. In fact, Dr. Montessori referred to this as the second part of the first plane of development. Many schools with programs spanning from toddler through the upper grades will often fold the kindergarten students within the early childhood program. This is because children in the kindergarten year still need to concretely make sense of the world. These children developmentally teeter between the concrete and the abstract. If you push a child too quickly into abstract work, especially if the child is not ready, it may turn the child off to learning and may inadvertently stifle a child’s natural curiosity.
In the book entitled, The Hungry Mind: The Origins of Curiosity in Childhood, by Susan Engel, a senior lecturer in psychology at Williams College, the author notes that children who are habitually curious learn more. Like Dr. Maria Montessori, Engel finds that when a child is “momentarily curious, her learning is optimized at that time.” Engel notes, however, that curiosity is “squelched” because schools often treat it as a distraction from “real learning.”
In a well-referenced Harvard Business Review article, Professor Jeff Dyer of Brigham Young University and Hal Gregersen of INSEAD explain their study of leaders and how inquisitiveness was a common denominator among successful entrepreneurs. Gregerson makes it a point to share how important it is to let children follow their curiosity:
"If you look at 4-year-olds, they are constantly asking questions and wondering how things work. But by the time they are 6 ½ years old they stop asking questions because they quickly learn that teachers value the right answers more than provocative questions. High school students rarely show inquisitiveness. And by the time they're grown up and are in corporate settings, they have already had the curiosity drummed out of them. 80% of executives spend less than 20% of their time on discovering new ideas. Unless, of course, they work for a company like Apple or Google.” - HAL GREGERSEN, INSEAD
He later states how a number of the innovative leaders in their study attended Montessori schools. Curiosity, however, is not only important in the business worlds, but throughout every facet of life. Without it, a vaccine for polio would have never been developed and the moon would have still been an unchartered territory. Keeping your child in the third year certainly promotes and continues to foster the curiosity needed for our ever-changing world and for the unknown tasks or problems that lay ahead.
Dr. Maria Montessori created materials to meet the needs of all children in the environment. Concepts become increasingly complex and abstract as the child continues to grow cognitively, socially, emotionally and physically. The World Map exemplifies the increasing complexity of the materials: A three-year-old (first-year student) could use the map as a puzzle. At this time, the child may learn to associate the colors of the continents to the names. A second-year child may be able to trace and color the pieces to make a map of his or her own. A Kindergarten-age child, however, may learn the names of individual countries of the continents and is able to identify corresponding flags to those countries.
Another example is the pink tower, considered by many to be an iconic and distinguishing Montessori classroom material, which is made up of ten cubes of various sizes. At first, the child is introduced to the tower as a means to visually distinguish large from small and to support coordination and precision in stacking them. The child is indirectly preparing to understand the concept of base ten and cubed roots in math that second and especially third year students will be ready to do.