A Montessori Casa classroom is a uniquely designed learning environment that enables children to develop and learn naturally through spontaneous, self-directed activities. It is not a day-care, baby-sitting service, nursery or play school. The classroom is designed to be a joyful place where the child’s love of learning can flourish in a carefully prepared, stimulating environment.
Under the observation and guidance of a qualified Montessori directress, the child connects to and engages in this enriched environment. Students are encouraged to choose work independently and with freedom of choice. The unique Montessori materials are self-correcting and encourage independence and growth in both self-esteem and confidence.
A) A Child-centred Community
Maria Montessori observed different “planes of development” in children and believed that an environment comprised of multi-aged children would optimize each child’s learning. Children of three, four and five years of age coexist in the Montessori Casa classroom and form a community in which they share the same teacher and same environment for three years. The Montessori classroom essentially becomes a thriving community where children are treated with respect and dignity and learn to treat others with the same respect and dignity. Through constant interaction, the children learn to take responsibility for themselves and for each other. They develop the ability to work productively alongside children of different ages and abilities and to respect each other’s work and workspace. They learn to excuse themselves, to greet each other and to phrase requests politely. They understand that their classroom and the materials in it require maintenance and take an active role in this activity. The children clean their own workspaces and put their materials away after each use so that another child can use them.
One of the most important aspects of Montessori education during this stage of development is the child’s development of personality and social behaviour within the multi-age setting. The youngest children are guaranteed models for more mature behaviour than they themselves are capable of performing. The older children are exposed to opportunities to develop their potential for leadership and social responsibility. This indirect learning occurs in the intellectual area as well. The younger children observe the older children working with materials that they will use in the future, and the older children spontaneously assist the younger ones with materials they have not yet mastered. This also offers the older children the opportunity to reinforce their knowledge by sharing it with younger children.
C) The Prepared Environment
The Montessori “prepared environment” respects and protects the child’s rhythm of life and is designed to facilitate maximum independent learning and exploration by the child. This prepared environment is also intended to serve as a bridge to the outside world. Dr. Montessori realized that she could not put the world in one room for the children to discover. She could, however, place keys to its exploration there. These “keys” are provided by uniquely designed Montessori materials that engage children’s natural curiosity and encourage their sensorial exploration of the world around them. These keys are presented in four areas: Practical Life Materials, which mirror activities of the culture, such as care of self and the environment, manners and social behaviour; Sensorial Materials, which reflect the qualities and facts of the world; Mathematics Materials, designed to present mathematical concepts in a concrete, “hands on” manner; and Language Materials, which introduce literacy in an ordered progression. In observing a Montessori classroom, you will notice that the furniture and materials in this classroom are scaled to fit the physical dimensions of a preschooler’s body. You will also notice that every child is busy and focused on an activity. A three-year-old is washing clothes by hand while a nearby four-year-old is composing words and phrases with the “Movable Alphabet”. A five-year-old is discovering multiplication using a specially designed set of beads while others are working together on a puzzle map. In the corner of the room, a teacher is introducing a small group of children to a new language activity. Learning is taking place literally everywhere you look! Gradually, children in this environment reveal qualities that are not usually associated with children of this age: intense concentration and surprising attention span, exactness and precise movement, a sense of order, maximum effort by even very little ones, self-discipline and respect for others, kindness and an obvious joy in working. The Montessori preschool classroom is a calm, ordered space constructed to meet each child’s needs and to match their scale of activity. The children accomplish their goals in their own manner in an environment that combines freedom, discipline and responsibility.
D) The Absorbent Mind
During the first years of life, the child possesses a unique aptitude for learning, which Dr. Montessori identified as the “absorbent mind”. This means that the child “absorbs” knowledge from the environment like a sponge, simply by living in it, seemingly without effort. Acquiring information in this way is a natural and delightful activity for young children who employ all their senses to investigate their surroundings. The Montessori student learns through a process of exploration and discovery with concrete, hands-on materials.
Each classroom is a cooperative community or “little society” where children develop social awareness and responsibility by respecting the rules of the classroom and treating others with kindness and concern. This respect for the structure, discipline, and boundaries of the classroom allow the children to enjoy freedom of both movement and speech. Caring for themselves, each other and their environment develops the child’s ability to act with self-discipline at a very young age. A three-year age span in each Casa classroom creates a natural environment for peer learning that develops leadership skills in older children and learning skills in younger children. This supportive and non-competitive environment also offers children the opportunity to progress at their own pace. As in a large family, older children help younger ones. In doing so, they reinforce what they have already learned and strengthen their own integrity and responsibility. The children work together or alone, on mats on the floor or at tables, and may move about the room freely as long as they respect the activities of others, and return the materials they use to their proper places.
Daily 30 minute lessons introduce the children to the French language through songs, games and other fun-filled activities. As in other core curriculum areas, emphasis is placed on hands-on activities where new vocabulary is taught using the actual object, which is then touched and felt, and by performing the action described.
G) Music and Movement Program
The movement program is designed to develop gross motor skills through organized games and acitivities. Music is incorporated into the movement program through rhythm, tempo and melodic exercises such as group and individual singing, playing of rhythm instruments and dance. These activities help the children develop neurologically and allows them to gain balance and coordination of their bodies.