When Dr. Maria Montessori set up her first class for children ages 3 to 7, (which she called a Casa dei Bambini – a children’s home), she observed that some activities appealed to the children more than others. The activities that engaged the children fully (or put them in a state of ‘flow,’ to use the modern term coined by psychologist Mihály Csikszentmihályi) became the basis of the international Montessori Casa curriculum for 3 to 6 year olds that is found around the globe today.
In considering the types of materials that fully engaged the young child, Dr. Montessori realized that in addition to the human tendencies we all have for communication, exploration and order, children have periods of development when some tendencies or sensitivities are much more pronounced than others. For the young child, these sensitivities include what Montessori termed an absorbent mind; the ability of young children to absorb the culture and language in which they exist. For example, young children naturally mimic what the adults around them do and say. Young children are also very interested in exploring their world through their senses; this helps explain why they have such a strong desire to move and explore. These children also have a strong sense of order and a tendency to repeat things independently.
By respecting and responding to children’s natural tendencies Dr. Montessori was able to create a learning environment for young children that has stood the test of time. The ‘Casa’ classroom is a prepared environment that stimulates the development of motor skills, the senses, cognition, language, eye-hand co-ordination, and independence. A Montessori prepared environment encourages the full development of children physically, emotionally, socially and academically.
Practical aspects of the OMS Casa Program
- Each Casa class has 24 children between the ages of 2 ½ and 6 years of age.
- The Casa programs are licensed under the Child Care and Early Years Act (CCEYA). A full cycle in a Casa program can be 3 or 4 years in length depending on the age the child enters and the child’s natural maturity.
- Children must be at least 2 years 6 months of age but, generally, not yet 4 when entering the program.
- Children must be toilet trained and independent in toileting (able to wipe themselves and pull up their clothes).
- New children are welcomed into the class one or two at a time after the first week to provide each child with the most positive experience of beginning school. It takes until the end of September for all new children to be welcomed.
Extended Day Casa– Children can arrive as early as 8:00 a.m. and leave as late as 5:30 p.m.
- A hot lunch and morning and afternoon snacks are provided.
- Younger children rest in the afternoon; children who are older (usually around 5 years of age), who have a full repertoire of Montessori activities, and who will be happy in the Montessori environment for the full day, stay in the class through the afternoon.
- All children enjoy outdoor play twice each day, weather permitting.
Half Day Casa– The younger children come to class from 8:45 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Children who are older (usually around 5 years of age), who have a full repertoire of Montessori activities, and who will be happy in the Montessori environment for the full day, stay for lunch and outdoor play and are in the class until 3:30 p.m.
The OMS Casa curriculum:
The Casa classroom is a prepared environment that includes the series of Montessori materials and activities, the Montessori Director or Directress who will give lessons and direct the class, other adult assistants who assist the Director/ress, and the community of students. The Montessori materials, which engage the young child in activities that aid their full development, are displayed throughout the room at a level available to the children. These activities could be labeled work or play, study or exploration. Gradually, as the children work with the materials, they reveal qualities for which they are not usually given credit, such as intense concentration and surprising attention span, exactness and precise movement, a sense of order, maximum effort by even very little ones, self–discipline, respect for others, kindness and an obvious joy in work.
Responding to the sensitivities and characteristics of children under 6 years of age, the Montessori Casa curriculum includes a series of sequenced activities in five categories:
- Practical Life
- Mathematics and Geometry
The Montessori Director/ress introduces each activity to each child in an individual presentation. The child can then choose this activity of their own accord, repeat it as many times as they wish and then return it to its place, before selecting another activity. There is only one of each activity so children learn to wait and are encouraged to choose a variety of activities. The Director/ress will
give each child the level of freedom and direction that will be most beneficial.
Practical life activities and materials assist the young child to master everyday tasks in three areas: care of the self, care of others, and care of the environment. Examples would be learning to do up buckles and tie bows, learning how to greet someone, cough properly, or serve snack to a classroom guest; and learning how to roll up one of the working mats, water the plants, or clean up a spill. In addition to developing independence and pride in accomplishment, these activities develop muscle control, a sense of order, and persistence, but perhaps most importantly they develop focused engagement.
Sensorial activities help the children refine all their senses with exercises for the discernment of size, shape, colour, texture, weight, sound, pitch, odours and tastes. Many activities include matching and sequencing. Sensorial activities provide opportunities to enrich vocabulary. They also provide indirect preparation for mathematical, geometric and algebraic concepts that will be presented in Elementary.
Language is a natural part of a Montessori classroom as the children are always communicating with one another and the adults. Since this is an age of language acquisition, every opportunity is taken to introduce accurate vocabulary: There are many sets of vocabulary cards, the adults read and tell stories, and introduce poetry, songs and finger-plays. All provide opportunities to develop oral language skills. Listening games help children hear the sound of the language. Cursive writing rather than print is introduced. At this age children love to repeat so it is an ideal time to practice cursive writing. Children who learn to write in cursive read print easily but the opposite is not as true. Children also make fewer reversals of letters if they are using cursive. Montessori children generally write before they read using a moveable alphabet that allows them to create words without having to write on paper. While they are working on the moveable alphabet they are also working with materials that will help them control a pencil. After much repetition with these preparatory exercises, children begin writing full words and sentences on paper. Once children can communicate their own ideas in written form they are ready to begin to decipher what others have written. Some children discover how to read simply by the repetition of using the movable alphabet and others benefit from specific lessons and materials to assist them to make the leap into reading. The language curriculum also introduces children to the rudiments of grammar through sensorial impressions of the parts of speech. The language materials of the Casa class form a strong base for the Elementary curriculum which follows in an unbroken sequence.
Mathematics and geometry activities build on the sensorial materials and experiences. Concrete materials are used to introduce children to numerals, quantities, and counting up into the thousands. Once the children are comfortable with these concepts, they are introduced to the concrete materials that introduce and allow the children to practice the operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. There are also materials to help children learn their math facts, since this is a period when they like to repeat things. Geometry is also introduced with concrete materials that the children manipulate and explore. The math and geometry curriculum continues in an unbroken sequence into the Elementary program.
Cultural activities build on the practical life and sensorial experiences of the children and introduce them to music, art, cultures and traditions of the world, as well as basic concepts in geography and science. For example, children learn about land and water forms, the continents and oceans, countries and their cultures, and the basic parts of plants and animals.
To see a detailed outline of the curriculum click on the link below: