This prepared environment is designed for children ages 3 to 6 years.
The Children's House is designed to integrate the four main areas of learning: Practical Life, Sensorial, Mathematics, and Language. This carefully prepared and beautiful environment allows children to learn through exploration and to be guided by their inner motivation. Dr. Maria Montessori named it Casa dei Bambini, not 'the Children's School', but truly, 'the Children's Home.'
A Pathway to Physical Independence
The Children's House environment is warm, clean, orderly and beautiful. The materials and tools are particularly designed to bridge practice at home and at school. Children engage in activities that they see performed by the adults daily. These include caring for the self and the environment, and lead to a development of independence, coordination, joy of learning and concentration, all of which are essential qualities for life.
Practical Life activities enable the children to acquire the skills and competence to become contributing members of their community. There are four major areas of focus: Care of the self (eating, hand-washing, buttoning, etc.); Care of environment (washing, sweeping, polishing, dusting); Development of movement (walking, sitting, balancing, dancing); and Grace and Courtesy (serving, greeting, showing gratitude and respect for others). By engaging in activities that are meaningful, they become interested and personally invested. The intricate movements and multiple steps refine their motor skills and deepen their concentration. The children form their characters through refinement of movement, development of will, adaptation to the environment, concentration and independence.
"The first essential for the child's development is concentration. It lays the whole basis for his character and social behavior. He must find out how to concentrate, and for this he needs things to concentrate upon."
~ Dr. Maria Montessori
Squeezing Orange Juice
The child gains satisfaction from being able to make and taste fresh orange juice from his efforts in squeezing. The motion of grasping and turning the half orange to extract juice strengthens his fingers and the flexibility of the wrist; this motion is already a preparation for writing. As the adult offers this lesson, the child is simultaneously learning the names of the tools and the motions. Offering half of the juice to another child reinforces generosity towards others.
Although frequently a mundane activity for the adult, the young child develops a sense for sequencing, coordination and attention to detail through the simple act of washing her hands.
Walking on the Line
Through the careful and purposeful movement of this activity, children develop gross motor skills, balance, patience and grace. The line is neither straight nor circular, but elliptical as this shape has been found to facilitate coordination of movement and concentration. Movements such as skipping, hopping and carrying objects enable them to develop control and flexibility.
To honor visitors and welcome them into the environment, children prepare tea and offer it to the guests. It is through the Practical Life activities ranging from pouring, carrying objects in a tray, washing, and coordinating movements that the children are able to carry out this task from beginning to end. The phrases they learn to greet the guests, offer the tea, acknowledge their guests' departure, form part of their grace and courtesy practice, and help them in building confidence for life..
Ordering Patterns and the Senses
When the children enter Children's House, they have formed multiple sensory impressions from their experiences. Through exploring the Montessori sensorial materials, the children develop the ability to name and classify characteristics of the physical world by size, color, shape, form, sound, texture, taste, and smell. These sensory materials not only deepen the children's concentration and offer them an indirect preparation for handwriting, they also heighten the children's awareness of, and appreciation for, the complexity and intricacy of nature and of man-made objects.
"Anyone who has beheld not only the qualities of things classified in an orderly way, but also the gradations of each, is able to read everything that their environment and the world of nature contains."
~ Dr. Maria Montessori
This iconic activity promotes the child's psycho-sensory motor skills through movement. He learns to refine his motor skills and further enhance his hand-eye coordination. Through joyful engagement with pink cubes, the child learns to discriminate dimensions visually and linguistically.
Matching colors and grading from darkest to lightest enables the child to classify and discern color differences. Learning the names of each color not only expands the child's vocabulary, it also offers him specific language for detailed description. The matching of color to objects in the environment helps the child develop observation skills, which are, more generally, one key component to the cultivation of awareness.
With the aid of a colorful and engaging educational puzzle, the child becomes familiar with political geography. Not only is he able to learn the names of the various continents, countries, states, and provinces, he is also introduced to regional cultures and languages.
From Concrete to Abstract
Through manipulating the carefully designed and progressively concrete math materials, children are able to visualize how numbers relate to quantity. They develop an understanding of fundamental mathematical concepts through the repeated use of the materials. Practicing with the building blocks of mathematics lays the foundation for abstract calculation.
"Articles of mathematical precision do not occur in the
little child's ordinary environment. Nature provides him with trees, flowers and animals, but not these. Hence the child's mathematical tendencies may suffer from lack of opportunity. Therefore, we think of our sensorial material as a system of 'materialized abstractions', or of basic mathematics."
~ Dr. Maria Montessori
By visually examining, holding, grading, and naming the rods that are designed in incremental lengths, the child learns the numbers and concept of 1 through 10. The visual representation of each number rod expresses, with precision and clarity, what numbers stand for.
Decimal System Material
This activity hones the children's fine and gross motor skills through the manipulation of cards and quantities. The children discover the basic concept of simple and complex equations through the manipulation of tangible and concrete materials. Through movement and engaged interaction with the adult and their peers, children are introduced to the function of mathematical operations, and learn in a concrete way what it means to add, to subtract, to multiply, and divide.
This activity is an abstract reiteration of the decimal system. The child is re-familiarized with the operations in a less tangible, but still incredibly engaging way. This is the first in many activities that lead the child towards mathematical abstraction.
The Pillars of Communication
In working with the comprehensive Montessori language materials, whether in English, Mandarin or Japanese (the Japanese Program is currently only offered on the San Mateo campus), the children absorb and use precise vocabulary related to all the activities in the environment, both their names and characteristics. This oral foundation prepares them for reading and writing, and undergirds art and logic. The children further develop awareness and the ability to express their thoughts and action through words; this self-aware practice, in turn, is the foundation for the high cognitive functions. These skills are naturally put into practice every day, through meaningful multicultural and multilingual interactions with the adults and peers.
"Many experiments have been made which show
conclusively that this is the age in which vocabulary is most rapidly enriched. It is as if the child were hungry for new words. If he is not helped, he will obtain them with effort and at random. So we try to facilitate his work by collecting those he will need and offering them systematically."
~ Dr. Maria Montessori
I Spy Games
Using the form of a riddle, this enjoyable game prepares the child's ear for hearing, analyzing sounds, and connecting sounds to names of objects, an activity that also strengthens vocabulary building.
The child touches and traces each letter in cursive as he hears the sound it represents. Following curved lines is instinctively easier for children at this young age than straight lines, as in print, for instance. The visual, tactile, and auditory association of letters through movement and muscle memory stimulates brain synchronicity. The child learns the letters using all her senses, in a way that stimulates a variety of neurological pathways. This holistic approach leads to a delight in the physical act of writing and a sense of freedom in self-expression.
The child is able to focus on putting his thoughts in written form without having to write, as writing requires readiness of the hand in maneuvering the pencil. In connecting letters with the sound, which he learnt from the Sandpaper Letters, he is able to form words phonetically, and then to expand his skills to produce phrases and telling stories. His interest in self-expression guides the child's learning of new words and creation of stories.
The child learns single Chinese characters and their meanings. The child sees that combining various characters produces different meanings, in a way that is similar to how compound words work in English. This tool allows the child to express herself through written form while further developing her Chinese vocabulary before being able to write each character. With practice, the child refines the necessary hand-eye coordination and her ability to follow the proper sequence of strokes.
This material allows for the visual, tactile, and auditory association of the names of the basic strokes in Chinese characters through movement and muscle memory. The child traces the sandpaper strokes to become familiar with their intricate details, form and direction. This concrete knowledge is critical for writing, and especially so for calligraphy with a brush.
The quantifier is an essential component in Chinese for representing the quantity of each object. The equivalence in English would be: a piece of cake, or a gaggle of geese. From introductory lessons given by the adult, the child learns the function of the quantifier, first through using small objects, then through picture cards and words. The material facilitates understanding of the mechanics of the Chinese language through a meaningful, enjoyable, and purposeful activity.
Enrichment of Vocabulary
Through lessons and interaction with the adult, children learn the names, characteristics, and functions of the objects in the environment, as well as the materials and tools they use in activities. Seeing and holding the objects not only enrich their vocabulary, it also helps them connect words with the concrete.
This material allows for the visual, tactile, and auditory association of letters through movement and muscle memory. The child traces on the Hiragana symbols and hears the connecting sounds. The color coding of the tablets allows the child to see the groups of sounds and their symbols. Once he becomes familiar with the sounds and some names of objects, he will be able to use the movable hiragana box to form words, phrases, sentences, and stories to express his ideas even before he is ready to write with a pencil.
Drawing from her broad vocabulary and a previously acquired knowledge of the Hiragana symbols, the child reads the labels of various objects and matches them to the images provided. She associates the words she is learning with the objects she already knows. This activity allows her to read and make connections from symbol to object. This activity is important in further enriching her vocabulary and Japanese language skills.
A Typical Day
Morning activity period: The morning uninterrupted activity period begins when the child enters the environment. He chooses activities for which he has received prior lessons. Simultaneously, the adults offer individual or group lessons to children who are ready for the next level. Children help themselves to snacks as desired.
Lunch is a community event, an extension to Practical Life that involves table setting, serving the self and others as well as clean-up. An international menu incorporating natural ingredients prepared on site is served to reinforce nutritious food habits.
Lunch clean-up, nap preparation, and group singing, story, yoga, small movement games, outdoor activities, etc. happen next. Half-day dismissal is at 1:00 p.m. for children who do not need extended care.
Afternoon activity period: This is the second uninterrupted activity period in which small groups and individual advanced lessons are offered to older children; it is also a time for continuing practice.
3:00 pm: dismissal *
* The extended day program is from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm. Many children sign up for extracurricular activities offered by the school after 3:00 pm. A list of extracurricular activities is included with enrollment packages.