Our Montessori pre-school provides a prepared environment containing an extensive range of resources and tools for the development of the children throughout this very important phase of their life. Casa (short for Casa dei bambini, Italian for “house of children”) is named after Dr Montessori’s first classroom, opened in 1907, and accommodates children from around 3 years to 6 years of age. They stay with the same teacher for a period of three years. The 3 year old children are entering a stage of social development where they are interested in other people, so they learn from the older children. The older children, as well as gaining a sense of responsibility and positive self-esteem, are consolidating and sharing their knowledge by helping the younger children. The final year in this stage is vitally important for the child as a confident and independent worker.
The prepared environment is usually divided up into five areas: practical life, sensorial, language, mathematics and cultural. Although divided geographically, all the areas are closely integrated.
The Exercises of Practical Life
This is one of the most important areas of the Casa curriculum. It provides a link between home and the school environment. Young children like to imitate what the adults do, so the prepared environment facilitates this by providing the children with low, easy to reach shelves, small tables and chairs and materials which are child – sized and easy for a 3-year-old to use. All the materials are real – the children pour water from a glass pitcher into a china cup and they use stainless steel child size knives to butter their cracker at snack time or cut fruit for morning tea. In this way, the activity becomes “purposeful” and true to life.
There are four areas within the exercises of practical life:
Care of Self – buttoning, zipping, brushing hair, brushing teeth, wiping/blowing the nose, washing and drying hands, use of the toilet etc. These exercises will help to develop the child’s self – help skills as well as develop vital fine motor skills and independence.
Care of the Environment – care of the pot plants, gardening, sweeping the floor, polishing the ornaments, dusting the shelves, scrubbing tables, washing cloths, flower arranging etc. These exercises will help to develop the child’s fine and gross motor skills as well as their sense of achievement and their sense of responsibility and self-esteem.
Social Relations – exercises of grace and courtesy greeting, serving a snack, accepting, helping each other, saying “please” and “thank you”, etc. As everyone knows, to be an accepted part of the social community, all people must get along. The children learn dignity and respect for each other in their day-to-day conversations and interactions.
Movement – gross motor including balance, poise, “walking on the line”, “walking around the mats” etc. Fine motor including pouring lentils from jug to jug, transferring with tongs, transferring with the sponge, etc.
The Practical Life exercises help the children to practice and refine both gross and fine motor skills ready for the more academic curriculum such as reading and writing. If a child cannot hold a jug with a steady hand, then he or she is not ready to use a pencil!
Sensorial Development and Material
The Montessori sensorial materials in Casa have been carefully selected to enable children to categorise what the children already know – to sharpen, clarify and classify sensory impressions already experienced through life. They are beautifully designed to appeal to the children and each piece of material isolates one quality, i.e. shape, size, weight, smell, taste etc. For example, so that the child focuses only on the size and dimension of each cube of the above mentioned “Pink Tower”, the cubes are not painted in different colours – they are just a pale pink to isolate one quality. The focus is the size only.
Language and Mathematics concepts are indirectly taught through these materials, such as comparative language “big” and “small”, as well as matching, sorting, grading and the names of the different geometric shapes, etc.
Language Development and Materials
In the Casa environment, there is an abundance of language experiences through materials such as the continent folders and language cards, as well as through stories, discussions, and language games (“I Spy” etc…).
Writing is taught through the senses, such as through the sandpaper letters which they trace with their fingers. Gradually, the children start to identify the phonetic sound with the shape of the letter and will start to build words with the moveable alphabet preparing them for writing. At the same time, the children are introduced to the metal insets, and this is where they first start to hold a pencil. As their fine motor skills develop and improve, it is often found that the children will suddenly start to write independently and all by themselves.
Once the children have started writing independently either with the moveable alphabet or with a pencil, it is often found that soon after they start to read independently. They start first with simple phonetic words and gradually build up their skills as they learn the irregular sounds and rules of their language. It is important at this time to understand that all children develop these skills at different times and at their own pace. In the Montessori environment, these skills are not forced, but allowed to develop naturally and with the child’s own rhythm.
Mathematics Development and Materials (Order)
In the Casa environment, children start learning mathematical concepts as soon as they enter the classroom through the sensorial and specifically designed mathematical materials. Number rods, spindles, beads, counters and sandpaper numbers are all concrete materials used in the classroom to introduce the young child to mathematical concepts. They can explore the operations such as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division as well as geometry and place values. The materials allow for exploration, manipulation and discovery where children as young as four and a half can be manipulating numbers from 1 – 9999 as part of their mathematical journey from the concrete to the abstract concepts.
Cultural Development and Materials
The cultural materials hold a great fascination for every child in the Casa environment. They enjoy learning about the world around them and are beginning to understand that there is a bigger world out there. Using the materials, the children get a sensorial impression in geography, biology and botany through various maps and puzzles. There are many group discussions following the introductions of the continent folders or the continent boxes. Children love to see how other children live in other parts of the world and all these concepts can be introduced using the cultural materials. As the children get older, they start to create little “projects” for themselves using the materials to further their discoveries and many children start to try and find out more information for themselves.