In a multi-age Casa (preschool and kindergarten) classroom at Sunny Hollow, the oldest children become the models and the inspiration for the youngest, while consolidating their own knowledge, concepts, self-confidence, and sense of responsibility. The Montessori way of teaching values each child’s pace and style of learning. The whole-child approach engages children’s hands, bodies, emotions, passions, and interests.
Our three lively yet peaceful Casa classrooms have 24 to 30 children each. Children stay for half-day (8:30-12:00) or full-day (8:30-3:30) five days a week. Before and after care are available from 7:30 am to 5:30 pm. All children in their final year of the Casa (the “leadership” or Kindergarten year) enroll in the full-day program.
In a Casa classroom at Sunny Hollow, you see children throughout the sun-filled room working with deep concentration and contentment as they water plants, prepare food, build towers of blocks, count objects, or page through books. You hear them asking each other for help or excusing themselves as they put away a set of colored pencils. A Montessori Guide sits on the floor with a child to introduce a new activity, while nearby a classroom assistant calmly observes the room to ensure that everything is running smoothly.
Maria Montessori called her program for children aged 3-6 “Casa” because she wanted children to consider their classroom a home. They treat the room with both freedom IMGP8517and care, as might be expected in their own houses. Moreover, the Casa contains child-sized furniture and materials within reach of the youngest students. The materials and activities help children develop essential skills for life through building their self-confidence, independence, and concentration.
The work of daily living to which children are so attracted to includes washing windows, sweeping the floor, preparing food (and eating it!), fastening clothes with buttons or zippers, pouring water, and setting the table. Through deep engagement, they learn to follow a sequence of steps, develop their fine-motor skills, and strengthen their ability to concentrate. With a carefully prepared environment and everything sized for them, children become happy participants in the everyday life of the Casa.
Children use a variety of materials that help develop their fine motor skills as they creatively express themselves. Painting, modeling with clay, creating collages, cutting patterns, drawing, sewing, and knitting are activities that Casa children can learn to do.
Hands-on manipulatives allow the children to explore with and refine their senses. Children match color tablets, differentiate between sizes and shapes, match notes on the bells, place cylinders in matching holes, and build towers–all to help their developing minds make sense of the world.
The youngest children begin with spoken language activities such as sound games, listening to books, and singing. As they grow through their three years in the Casa, they learn the sounds of the alphabet, trace sandpaper letters with their fingers, write short words using wooden alphabet letters, practice making letters themselves, and eventually write and illustrate their own stories. They expand their vocabularies and their interests by using language cards. The Casa is a richly literate environment where children learn to express themselves in speech and writing, enjoy stories and books, and ultimately learn to read.
Children love to explore with the Montessori math materials that they begin using around age 4. They count objects and beads and learn to do mathematical operations with units, tens, hundreds, and thousands (using beads that they can touch and hold). Through work with the materials, they develop their problem-solving and critical thinking skills. All math activities involve the core Montessori approach: children learn at their own pace, they choose when and where to work with the materials, and the activities involve hands-on learning and whole-body movement.
In the Casa we offer the sensorial (concrete, hands-on) and language aspects of geography and culture: children trace sandpaper continents on a globe, work with puzzle maps for each continent, learn about flags of various countries, make their own maps of the world, learn songs from world cultures to sing and play on the bells, hear stories and read books about holidays and peoples around the world, and learn art forms related to diverse holidays and cultures.
The Casa is a buzz with children’s voices as they ask each other for help, chat while they eat snack in twosomes, converse over a book, and engage in many authentic social situations. Because large-group time is minimal, children have ample opportunity to communicate with each other in real-world ways, such as discussing whose turn it is to have snack or use the art easel. Children also gain practice in social interactions through small group Grace and Courtesy lessons that give them the vocabulary necessary to practice etiquette and also provide them with role-playing opportunities. Adults and the class leaders model respectful behavior that the youngest children quickly learn. Courtesy and care of the environment are fundamental throughout the classroom as students learn to take care of themselves, each other, and their classroom.