The Prepared Environment
The Montessori classroom is set up with a collection of sequentially organized activities focusing on practical life, language, mathematics, botany and zoology, geography, the senses, and the arts.
As the child grows in age and ability, there will always be materials at the appropriate level of development to attract and interest him or her.
Lessons emerge organically with practical life activities, including gaining a sense of competence at overcoming new challenges, learning how to focus attention on small details and to work with precision, and learning to treat others with grace and courtesy. The children take ownership of the environment, both indoors and out through these activities, enabling him or her to develop control and coordination of hands and body, care of self and surroundings. These skills lay the foundation for the road ahead.
We introduce the basic physical geography of our earth: its land forms, continents, and countries. We extend the study of geography to cultural appreciation. All peoples on earth have the same basic needs: food, clothing, shelter, transportation. But each culture has a different way of meeting these needs. Activities in social geography help the young child to know about the different peoples who inhabit our earth and to appreciate, accept and respect their ways of living.
Children engage all their senses at Casa. They develop visual perception by learning to discern size, shape and color. They develop auditory perception by learning to distinguish the dynamics of sounds, musical tones, and letter sounds. One way children engage their sense of smell is by identifying and matching scents. Children explore the tactile nature of objects, for example by identifying various geometric objects by their shape, without relying on sight. And last but not least, we engage the sense of taste to differentiate sweet, sour, bitter and salty.
With Montessori sequenced mathematics materials, children learn to count and to recognize numerals in a hands-on way. When ready they are introduced to the decimal system, and how large numbers are formed. They learn to add, multiply, subtract and divide through the use of collaborative games and other manipulative materials. Through work with these activities, they acquire the foundation for higher level reasoning skills.
At Casa we respect life in all its forms and practice this belief daily. We introduce children to the natural world first by recognizing the fundamental categories of all matter: all things are either living or nonliving, and all living things are plant or animal. As our categories expand, we learn plant and animal anatomy, habitat and needs. The children witness the life cycle process, in the classroom, through the transformation of a caterpillar. They release the beautiful butterfly back into nature with a song. Casa children love getting their hands dirty tending to “the soil heroes” in our worm habitat. We sow seeds together and tend to them and other flowering and fruiting plants through out the year.
At Casa we learn the alphabet by sound first, a less abstract, more sensorial approach. We understand that words are made up of sounds, and sounds are represented by letter symbols. Understanding the relationship between letters and sounds lead to building words with movable letters. As the children develop these skills, they eventually realize they can read what they have written. In learning language, children also acquire the skills to express themselves and communicate thoughts and feelings to each other, enabling them to function successfully in the social world.
Through Casa’s prepared environment and hands on guidance, we introduce children to the world of art. We introduce the works of great masters and offer many different opportunities for artistic expression. We enhance their exposure to literature by staging dramatic interpretation of poetry and stories. We sing, play rhythm instruments, and move our bodies to music. We listen to the works of major composers, and gain appreciation for the role music can play in our lives. Attending the Austin Symphony Orchestra Halloween concert with our oldest children each October is one of our favorite and longest held traditions.
Casa has many traditions, some of which date back to our very first year. These give a sense of continuity and timelessness to our children and to alumni who return to visit. On a child’s birthday, we tell the story of each year in the life of a child, along with a special song and ceremony. On Peace Day we celebrate our common humanity with countries around the world, and the role we can play in making peace with the human family. Many of our traditional celebrations provide opportunities for parents to join their child’s classroom as we celebrate the various cultures of our world.