Maria Montessori conceived a classroom environment especially prepared for 3 to 6 year-olds. She called it the Children’s House, and it was especially designed to nourish their developmental needs during these years.
Key among these needs is for the child to be able to develop skills to become independent. One way to understand how the Montessori philosophy is put into practice in the classroom is to think of what we are offering the children as "structured autonomy." In order for the children to be autonomous, clear ground rules must be established and the classroom environment needs to be organized with great care by the Guide and Assistant. As the children learn the ground rules and how to function in the classroom, their security and self-esteem grows tremendously. They feel more and more confident in the environment because it is consistent and thus predictable. This gives them a solid base, which enables them to thrive as individuals, combining a strong sense of self, a sense of belonging and a respect for the community.
The Children's House has a clearly defined, sequential curriculum. It's five main areas are: practical life, sensorial, language, mathematics, culture (geography, history, science, arts and music).
The first materials presented in the Children’s House are very attractive and familiar from everyday life. They are designed to be used without adult help: boxes to be opened and closed, padlocks to be locked and unlocked, rags and buckets for washing, pitchers, zippers, snaps, and ribbons to tie and untie. These activities help the child develop fine and gross motor skills and coordination, as well as the ability to focus. As a result, children achieve greater independence and develop self-confidence and self-esteem.
The sensorial materials were specifically designed by Maria Montessori to foster experiential learning through the senses. Children explore color, weight, length, texture, flavor, smell, sound and dimension. While honing their senses, they develop concentration, distinguish detail and control their movements, becoming an informed explorer of their environment. Improving understanding and appreciation, they themselves construct the foundation that will allow them to communicate with precision, both verbally and visually. The use of these materials offers indirect preparation for future studies of mathematics and science.
Great attention is given to language. Guides use precise language in order to enrich vocabulary. The alphabet is introduced phonetically, through games such as ‘I Spy’. Once confident with the sounds of the alphabet children are introduced to the corresponding letters. These are explored sensorially by tracing sandpaper letter forms that soon prepare them to write words. This happens spontaneously when the child is ready. Reading skills emerge later following each child’s own natural rhythm. Bilingual materials are available in the classroom, and guides speak English and Spanish. Children begin writing and reading in their mother tongue and as they attain confidence, they transfer those skills to their second language.
Before children begin to work with the math materials they internalize mathematical concepts: length, weight and quantity by working with practical life materials. Sensorial materials represent the decimal system, so children acquire a familiarity with it before approaching mathematical operations. Once they internalize the concepts, they move toward abstraction: tracing the sandpaper numbers, exhaustively exploring the value associated with each number, and culminating in the arithmetic operations.
Children are introduced to globes, wooden puzzle maps of continents and countries. Once they explore these materials, they are introduced to their names. They learn about the agriculture, animals, climates and peoples of each continent, expanding their understanding of cultural diversity. Also being an international school the community of children provides many opportunities for discussing different languages, customs and beliefs.
Music is also important in the Children’s House curriculum. Children are introduced to basic musical expression through songs and movement. With bells and other percussion instruments they explore tone and rhythm.