The Montessori environment contains specially designed, manipulative materials for development that invite children to engage in learning activities of their own individual choice. Under the guidance of a trained teacher, children learn by making discoveries with the materials, cultivating concentration, motivation, self-discipline, and a love of learning.
“Nido” (Italian for “Nest”), which is represented in our schools’ logo, is what the Montessori Infant/Toddler program was originally referred to as.
Our Toddler Program serves children who are comfortably walking (approximately age eighteen months to age three) in a small and intimate group of ten children and two trained teachers. The environment conforms to the physical needs of the children, both in the size of the furnishings and in the opportunities for motor development. There is a lot of natural light, selected art placed low on the walls, and defined space to challenge coordination of movement.
There are five areas in the Toddler Environment – Practical Life, Sensorial, Language, Mathematics, and Culture.
Materials are designed to help the child adapt to life, to develop muscular coordination and to develop the ability to follow a sequence of activities. They lead to independence in care of oneself and the environment.The children utilize real objects which serve as a connection between the home and the school. Here, the child will always feel successful as there is no way to do an exercise wrong, increasing precision and exactness.
Materials are designed to allow the child to consciously classify the sense impressions that he/she has received since birth – and before. They allow the child to make finer and finer discriminations with their senses. Each piece of material isolates a quality they have experienced and gives them an opportunity to name it.
Language underlies everything in the child’s life and in the classroom. The child is deeply interested in anything to do with language so they are constantly given opportunities to express themselves in language, in stories, poems, and in conversation. Children at this age are also working hard to expand their vocabulary so we should offer them a wide range of language experiences. At age four and a half to five or six, the child learns to write and read – a new way for them to express themselves. In our classroom, components of writing are prepared for indirectly so they can explode into writing, thinking that they have taught themselves.
These materials are designed to allow the children to find points of reference in the mathematical world. These materials work with math in a very concrete way emphasizing numbers and the decimal system. All these branches of mathematics are integrated: arithmetic, geometry and preparation for algebra. The child is studying mathematics in a concrete, sensorial manner so that they are comfortable with it.
These lessons are closely allied with language lessons, yet they remain concrete and give the children a manual activity they can perform independently.
“Casa dei Bambini”, Italian for “Children’s House” and now referred to as “Casa” is what the Montessori Pre-school program was originally referred to as.
Our Casa Montessori prepared environment is specially designed to meet the developmental needs of our students. Children choose their own activity and work at their own pace. They experience the freedom to choose, the freedom to move, and self-discipline. The “prepared environment” is Maria Montessori’s concept that the environment can be designed to facilitate maximum independent learning and exploration by the child.
The six principles of the prepared environment are:
- Structure and order
- Nature and reality
- Social environment
- Intellectual environment.
Our classrooms adhere to these principles as they are bright, warm and inviting, and they allow children to develop independence in all areas according to his or her inner psychological directives. Classrooms are prepared with beauty and harmony; they are filled with plants, libraries, bright arrays of geometric solid forms, knobbed puzzle maps, coloured beads, nature tables and a science table including fossils and artifacts, as well as various specialized rods and blocks. Everything in the environment including furniture and materials is scaled to fit the physical dimensions of a preschooler’s body. Materials and activities are laid out in an orderly way on easily accessible open shelves that are at the children’s eye level allowing them to freely engage in any activity that appeals to their cognitive, physical, social or emotional needs.
The Casa environment is divided into five areas. Practical Life, Sensorial, Language, Mathematics and Culture. Students have access to each area during the Montessori work periods. Lessons are presented to the children individually or in small groups when they demonstrate readiness and interest. The success of Montessori education is a result of an approach which begins with concrete experience then moves the child toward the abstract. The Montessori materials cater to the young child’s natural inclination to touch and do. The five areas are described below.
The purpose of Practical Life lessons is to assist the child in gaining coordination of movement and help them acquire independence. Activities such as pouring, sweeping, cleaning and sorting are examples of Practical Life activities. Children are presented with lessons on each activity when they demonstrate an interest and readiness. Practical Life activities contribute to a child’s growth, intellect, and concentration, thereby helping him to develop an orderly way of thinking.
The purpose and aim of Sensorial work are for the child to acquire clear, conscious, information and to be able to then make classifications in their environment using specialized Montessori Sensorial apparatus. Activities are designed to provide the child with opportunities to explore their environment through their senses. Sensorial exercises cover a wide range of qualities that can be perceived by the senses; soft, hard, cold, hot, large, small, wide, narrow, rough, smooth etc.
The purpose of the Language area is to develop the child’s acquired verbal skills and explore written forms of language. Their sensitive period for language permits the children to fully articulate thoughts, express themselves in writing, read with ease, and have a full comprehension of the thoughts of others. Using the Montessori materials, children are exposed to the recognition of sounds, the development of words, the formation of sentences, the concepts of rhyme, spelling, reading, parts of speech and more. The degree at which a child progresses is only limited by their individual readiness and interest.
The Cultural area of the Montessori Casa curriculum includes science, geography, history, art, music, and movement. The study of Cultural subjects provides the child with the opportunity to explore their place in society, understand similarities between their own culture and others, thereby developing tolerance and respect for differences. Learning these concepts by working with their hands contributes to a development of the intellect and increases curiosity about the world around them.
The uniquely designed Montessori materials engage children’s natural curiosity and encourage their sensorial exploration of the world around them. The materials attract children’s attention and engage their natural desire to learn. They provide children with the opportunity for hands-on learning with concrete representations of concepts which are essential for the development of a strong foundation of understanding.
Young children are attracted to numbers which are all around them. The Montessori mathematics curriculum explores concepts such as pattern, sequence, order, quantity and symbolism through the use of the Montessori materials. When ready, the child will be exposed to the mathematical functions of addition, multiplication, subtraction, and division. As each concept is grasped from a concrete level, the child transitions to the abstract.
Within our 3,200 square foot playground, there are two water tables, one sandbox, one sand table, a play house, a basketball net, work benches, a doll house, and almost two dozen riding toys (cars, bikes, trikes, push riders). The playground is completely fenced with two safely secured gates and a 936-square-foot patio with a full length of beautiful cedar trees. There are also mature trees that cast enough shade to cover half of the playground.
Language development is at its peak during the early years, so learning other languages comes quite readily to children. Toddlers raised in bilingual homes happily babble away in both languages. In order for students to get a feel for another language, we offer activities and strategies that make learning French fun. Our French sessions include games, songs and stories. We cover the family, manners, colours, numbers, the months of the year, the days of the week, fruit, items used for a table setting, parts of our bodies and transportation, to name a few.
Our music sessions provide an excellent opportunity to explore rhythm and movement as well as the opportunity to learn the many different fundamentals and elements of music. This includes pitch, beat, tempo, rhythm, melody, harmony, vocal expression and articulation.
At a first glance, the calm Montessori classroom may not look like the most social of environments but Montessori students can and do learn to behave politely, to interact respectfully, to problem solve, and to work together within their community. In fact, much of the “quiet” behavior thought to be a result of “strictness,” is actually the result of contentedness. Children who are getting their developmental needs met are joyful learners and respectful members of their communities.
Maria Montessori observed that all children learn according to natural, built-in, stages of development. Children under six years old are developing an identity or sense of self. They will often prefer to work individually. As the child gets older, they develop more of an interest in learning collaboratively. The Montessori Method respects these natural inclinations of the developing child. Children have the freedom to choose to work by themselves when they need to. Likewise, children can choose to work in groups and to help one another.
Our schools show that children of different ages help one another. The younger one sees what the older ones are doing and asks for explanations. There is a communication and harmony between the two that one seldom finds between the adult and the small child.Dr. Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind