Our Children’s House is truly a home-like community that belongs to the children. In this environment, children are nurtured with warmth, care, and respect. They are empowered to take ownership of caring for themselves, caring for each other, and eventually, caring for the environment which is their own. With the freedom to move, each child chooses to work alone or with others, and is responsible for selecting work of his/her interest, whether it is to gain independence through working with practical life activities, satisfy his/her curiosity and thirst for language, explore the physical properties of the world with his/her senses, or discover the magic of a mathematical world.
This environment comprises children of mixed-ages, allowing the young ones to have role models to look up to and learn from “teachers” much closer to their ages (and thus better understanding of their obstacles!), while providing the older children the opportunity to strengthen their leadership skills, reinforce their learning, and cultivate their compassion through being responsive to the needs of the younger children. Children enjoy the freedom of being an individual while learning to consider and respect the needs of a group, which lays the foundation for them to become socially independent.
There are four main areas within our environment.
Washing, sweeping, dusting, slicing apples, preparing lemon water, window washing, buttoning, tying shoe laces… household activities as such are familiar to children through everyday life. They are so interested in these activities due to their desire to be able to do exactly what adults do. In our environment, children have the opportunity to practice these activities using materials tailored to their size so they are able to manipulate each piece comfortably and with confidence. By working in this area, children gain essential life skills, which helps build their independence and self-esteem. In addition, these activities help children refine their movement coordination and develop powers of concentration, abilities essential for their future learning.
An important aspect of this area, one without any physical materials, is Grace and Courtesy lessons. Rather than correcting or isolating the child, we give him/her the opportunity to practice grace and courtesy in natural situations so that actions become second nature. This allows children to interact harmoniously with others both in our Children’s House as well as the greater community.
During the beginning years, children are in a self-construction process and the brain is developing at a tremendous speed. They gain multi-dimensional understanding of the world by exploring and absorbing through their acute senses. Dr. Montessori developed the sensorial materials to help children gain accurate information about the physical properties of the world (color, dimension, weight, shape, smell, texture, sound, temperature, etc.). Each sensorial material is designed scientifically with precise measurements, isolates a specific quality for the child to focus on, and represents materialized abstraction to help bring clarity to abstract concepts. These materials provide a way for children to develop appreciation for creative beauty, achieve intellectual exploration of the surroundings, and refine large and fine motor movements. This prepares them physically as well as intellectually for future learning.
The young child is receptive to language in all forms: spoken, written, music, art, as well as mathematics. Most language learning is acquired through an “absorbent mind” (a specific mind capacity unique to children ages 0-6 which allows them to absorb everything in their environment fully and effortlessly), and once acquired, it becomes fixed in the child. Our first emphasis is on spoken language development. We provide a rich language environment by modeling proper, precise, and grammatically correct spoken languages in both Chinese and English, and providing daily opportunities of telling stories, reading books, as well as having day-to-day conversations. In such an environment, children's love for language is cultivated. Writing and reading then come very naturally as pleasant experiences for children.
The Montessori approach to written language is unique, and is perhaps the only approach that follows the natural development of the human being. Since children first experience language through sounds, we start by raising their awareness of sounds in individual words. Writing comes before reading because it involves fewer thought processes. Gradually and naturally, children start reading phonetically. Through a significant amount of work by the child and support from the guides, children reach "total reading", a stage where they are not only able to read the words, but also appreciate the style, feelings, emotions, as well as the entire message the author tries to convey.
Every child's innate mathematical potential is fostered by the unique approach in the Children's House. Mathematical concepts are first introduced in a concrete form. Working with the concrete materials builds a solid foundation of children's understanding and prepares them to gradually understand abstract concepts in a very concrete way. Through this approach, children of this age are able to carry out addition, subtraction, multiplication and division with understanding. They work happily with large quantities (think thousands, and even millions), fractions, geometry, and powers of and roots of numbers, concepts conventionally considered too advanced for the young mind. Over time, children build a concrete understanding of quantity, symbols, and operations, and become ready for thinking abstractly and logically.
Integrated into the above four areas are art, music, geography, science, botany, as well as zoology to provide a whole learning experience.
Our approach to art starts with the understanding that art is a way of self-expression. Therefore, we do not directly “teach” art. Rather, we prepare children physically as well as intellectually to freely express themselves. The development of artistic skills is supported by many materials in the environment. Practical Life activities as well as certain Sensorial materials help prepare the hand so that the child acquires the fine motor skills necessary for artistic expression. In addition, Sensorial materials support the child in understanding line, shape, color, form, space, texture, and value, which are the fundamental elements of art. As one of the foundational ways for children to create art with their hands, metal insets offer opportunities to create self expression in a graphic form within limited space. We also expose children to various art through visual aides as well as verbal descriptions without placing judgment. This allows children to engage in both imaginative as well as descriptive aspects of art.
We provide quality artistic tools, such as pastels, chalk, charcoal, clay, paint, sewing, knitting, embroidery, and origami to support children’s self expression. We introduce the materials with a focus on the techniques and not on the final product. The goal is to offer keys to exploration and discovery, rather than to impress others.
Music is very much alive in our environment, from singing and listening to both Chinese and English songs, playing rhythm activities, to experiencing various musical instruments. The most captivating of all, the bells, is a set of seemingly identical, simple, yet elegant Sensorial material in the Montessori environment. As children work with the bells, which produce beautiful and precise sounds, their auditory sense in terms of discriminating pitch is refined. They also begin to appreciate music as universal language, and learn the order and pattern of music, which aides their mathematical minds. Gradually, children learn the names of the notes, start to creatively express themselves through composing on the bells, and may even begin to read music.