News – Page 8 – Casa di Mir Montessori


Community Service: Casa di Mir 6th Years Making a Difference through Action

The service learning project supports Maria Montessori and Casa di Mir’s mission of teaching peace education and global citizenship as part of the school curriculum.

With topics including autism, social media, poverty in Silicon Valley, and more, Casa di Mir 6th year students completed their year-long service learning project (SLP) at Speaker’s Night on the evening of April 28, when each gave a presentation summarizing their experiences and research.

As with previous Casa 6th years, the SLP began last May when they were 5th year upper elementary students. That’s when each selected an issue in the community that was meaningful to them, one they would want to learn more about, and one where they hoped to make a difference and improve lives.

Over the course of one year, they researched their individual topics, wrote detailed reports, and committed 20 hours of service to helping the community. Most hours were spent serving those affected by the student’s chosen issue. However, many also committed service hours to help classmates support their causes. Then on Speaker’s Night, each shared their findings with a large audience of students, parents, and staff.

Having worked with their teachers for over two weeks on presentation skills, the students’ individual voices and passions came through with confidence and clarity.

The SLP goal is to empower each student to make a difference in the community through action. As students become more aware of the issues faced by members in their own community, they become more compassionate toward the struggles happening around them, and realize they have the ability to create change. This supports Maria Montessori and Casa di Mir’s mission of teaching peace education and global citizenship as part of the school curriculum.

This year’s 5th years are about to embark on this same journey. We eagerly anticipate the topics they choose, the growth they will experience, and the differences they will make.


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Casa di Mir Founding Philosophies

“Adults are guides and models for the new generation.”

Established nearly three decades ago, these essential concepts continue to beautifully serve Casa di Mir students, the school and our community.

Casa’s Founding Philosophies:

  • Education flourishes when children love to learn and feel connected to their community.
  • A child’s journey is the search for their meaningful place in the world.
  • The whole of the world can be positively impacted by well-rounded, informed, mature individuals. This development begins early in life, in the home and in the classroom.
  • The hard work of peace and conflict resolution begins in the initial communications and experiences of the child.
  • Mindfulness, focus and concentration are the bedrocks of success in life.
  • Adults are guides and models for the new generation. We must do this well.
  • Critical thinking, responsibility, compassion, and independence are the gifts of a strong education and will guide a child through to adulthood.

A big thank you goes out to board president Jen Jobart for capturing these. They are also featured in the 2016-2021 Strategic Plan, “Nurturing Our Growth, Strengthening Our Roots” issued early this school year.

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Alumni Update: Ashley Lam

Casa di Mir regularly reaches out to alumni to see where they are on their journey. Ashley Lam was once a Casa di Mir first grader with a love of art. She is now a UC Davis student of architecture. We are grateful to Ashley for sharing her story.

        Ashley Lam, Casa di Mir Montessori School alumni

When I started as a first grader at Casa, I did not imagine that I would continue my Montessori education into my high school years. I have very fond memories of my early years at Casa, from my friends and supportive teachers, to having access to a learning environment that allowed me to explore at my own pace and be creative.

Many of the values that I have today are rooted in the time I spent at Casa. As I get older I am appalled to see social injustices in our world whether locally or internationally. And I feel fortunate that Casa had always instilled the importance of inclusivity in my classmates and me.

I am currently studying at UC Davis pursuing a degree in Design with an emphasis in architecture. I am in the middle of applying to graduate school and I am looking into architecture and lighting programs.

I have always liked working creatively, and I remember looking forward to art class on Fridays with Ms. Nancy. I couldn’t wait to get to my seat and see what project she had planned for us. The teaching materials in the classroom also, in many ways, translated well to how I learn visually.

I am now interested in how space can meet the needs of its users and be accessible to a wide range of people from different backgrounds. As our social climate rapidly changes, our buildings need to support the needs of evolving social groups, and a poorly designed building can be more damaging that it seems.  Buildings can isolate people or bring them together.

The idea of an accessible space, that I would like to build one day, thematically is much like the inclusive space that I started with at Casa.  As a first grader I did not know that I would one day want to study architecture and lighting design. But through a series of influences and compassionate teachers, it gave me the stepping stones to realize that I want to make our world more unified.

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The Importance of Sewing Skills as Practical Life for Ages 3 to 6

Sewing is a part of the Practical Life work available to Casa di Mir students in the Primary program.

Students begin with lacing cards and move on to sewing embroidery thread on plastic forms using a plastic needle and then learn to sew on loose weave fabrics such as burlap.

In addition to being wonderful work to develop their small motor skills, sewing allows their creativity to shine. The children decide what shape to sew on the burlap, choose the color of thread to use and often accent the design by sewing beads or sequins onto the design.

Last year, the kindergartners finished the year with a group sewing project: making a quilt! They each sewed a four-piece square. This included one piece from each student that he or she personalized with fingerprint art. The final  pieces were put together by a room mom to form a keepsake quilt for the classroom.

In addition to learning how to do the stitching for their four-piece square, the children were taught how a quilt is put together and what the different parts of the quilt are called.

The children had so much fun doing this project that we decided to do it again this year. Once more, with the help of a parent in the classroom, the kinders in both Primary classrooms sewed a quilt for their classrooms. The pictures in this article show you the quilt from our P2 classroom.

For more information on last year’s quilting project, read this wonderful article written by Casa di Mir room mother, blogger and quilter, Sarah Goer.

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Reflecting on Education and Society

The author and her daughters in 2007.

I joined Casa di Mir’s board of directors in April of 2007 as Secretary, eager to serve a school that was working so well for my children. I had previously served on a non-profit board. I became Board President in 2010 and served until August 2016.

My initial motivations were my children: serving would let me peek into their world and even be part of it from a place where I could contribute. As time went by I became more interested in the topic of education and realized through reading and attending lectures, that education is not just an aspect of our lives pertinent mainly to children, young adults, and educators. As a determining factor of who we are and how we think, it is in fact pertinent to all of us. Our world is a collection of individuals most of whom went through an education system, whichever it was, that shaped their sense of who they are, their ability to cooperate with others, and their ability to be critical thinkers and to question constructively whether their environment can be improved.

Realizing that it is through our schools that we can best influence society, my motivation for serving on Casa’s Board changed from that of a mom wishing to support her kids’ environment to that of a citizen, attempting to make a difference. Though small, relatively speaking, it is important to ensure that a school of the quality of Casa Di Mir continues to educate the great citizens that I have seen graduate from here and thrive as young adults. I believe that Casa’s method of education can make a difference for our future society. The following information about education are points I’ve learned during my journey as Board member.

Conventional Education

The roots of today’s conventional education date back to the industrial era. Conventional schools are modeled on factories, as the birth of mass public schooling coincided with the “efficiency era” driven by industrialization. While they may be “efficient” in getting a lot of kids through a curriculum, they do have serious problems, because:

  • The approach assumes that one way fits all, but not all children are the same. Children who don’t conform to the standard who could be brilliant in their own way, feel incompetent or inept or bored
  • Societal needs have changed: nowadays we need individual initiative rather than blind obedience to the bells of a factory

Conventional education is based in part on the “Blank Slate Theory,” where the assumption is that children are empty vessels or blank slates ready to be filled (this is called the Lockean Model). The teacher is the dominant person in the classroom taking complete control and deciding what is right or wrong. Problems that I see with this are:

  • Children are not required and are in fact discouraged from taking their own initiative, often feeling at a loss when asked to solve a problem without a teacher giving specific instructions
  • Modern pedagogy, proven right by scientific research, indicates that active learning children do much better academically than passive learners

In conventional education, behaviorist methods are used to “fill the vessel.” To ensure that the material is memorized, children go through repetition and are externally rewarded or punished. Problems with this erroneous concept include:

  • Intrinsic joy of learning is ignored or even crushed, substituted by the joy of getting an external reward, or by the fear of being punished
  • Creativity is crushed – conforming to expectations is rewarded, thinking outside the box is not. Creativity can lead to “the wrong result”, which will lead to a low grade
  • Risk-taking is discouraged – mistakes are met with punishment often in the form of low grades which should be avoided at all costs
  • Often behaviorist methods create a negative environment where children dislike school due to fear of failure or pressure to get good grades. Studies have shown that students in happy or enjoyable environments learn more and better than those in difficult environments
  • Children who do not respond well to the established method of learning suffer a tremendous blow to their self-esteem. Brilliant people grow up thinking they are not very smart

Alternative Education

Constructivism is a theory of knowledge that argues that humans generate knowledge and meaning from an interaction between their experiences and their ideas. Pedagogies based on constructivism like the Montessori Method, suggest that the best way to learn is through a hands-on approach. Learners learn by experimentation and not by being told what will happen, and are left to make their own inferences, discoveries and conclusions.

Casa is uniquely well-equipped to educate the whole child. We often mention a long list of qualities fostered by our school which include high academics, love of learning, strong leadership skills. While these are all true and important, at the top of my list is Casa’s ability to foster critical thinking in children.

At Casa, children are allowed to experience conflict, explore aggression, and understand empathy in a guided but not repressive way. The peace table is not just a tool to solve disagreements between kids. It is a life impacting learning experience that provides each child with knowledge that I’ll argue trumps any other.

The children can ask and answer questions that in conventional settings aren’t even considered: “What is happening to me and what is happening to the children around me? Why do I feel anger, why do I feel hurt? What are these impulses I feel and how do I cope with them?”

This knowledge builds mindfulness and self-awareness from the inside – a child begins to know and understand her own feelings, impulses, and self-regulation mechanisms. She develops a skill that can be applied in life, helping in the understanding of the world. These are skills that turn children into critical thinkers, outstanding citizens, individuals with great ability to enjoy life and to impact their environment.

The author and her daughters in 2017.

I have observed that Casa Alumni are resilient, critical thinkers who are eager to explore and maintain their love of learning in the larger world they’ve stepped into.

I’m very proud of the work that my colleagues on the Board are doing to support our beloved school, and look forward to seeing our new Strategic Plan implemented. I am confident in our new Board President, Jen Jobart, and her leadership skills. I am also filled with gratitude toward the Casa Community for all that it has meant for me and my family: friendships, support, and a happy, nurturing sense of “home” for my children.


Contributed by Alex Velasquez, Casa di Mir board member and past board president.

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Ilana Dover: Montessori Leader, Teacher and Friend

As some of you may know, Ilana Dover, one of Montessori’s best, came to the end of her battle with cancer on March 7. Ilana dedicated herself to Montessori education for 35 years. The past 7 years, she was Owner, Director and Teacher at San Jose Montessori School in San Jose. She was also the author and creator of the “Real Heroes” series of children’s books.

The lives of children, their parents and grandparents were greatly improved by her love and dedication to Montessori education. There will be a Memorial gathering for all who loved Ilana as follows:

Date:  Sunday, April 2, 2017 from 10am to 12pm
Location:  Camden Community Center Multi-Purpose Room
Address: 3369 Union Ave. in San Jose, CA 95124

In lieu of flowers or gifts, please consider cards or a donation that will help fund a new construction of San Jose Montessori school. If you want to attend, please RSVP at (408) 377-9888 or

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Casa di Mir is in the News! Check out this article by Bay NVC

Casa di Mir has been featured in the Bay NVC article, NVC Schools: Is this a thing or a movement? by Sura Hart and Jared Finkelstein. Be sure to check it out.

Non-Violent Communication (NVC) is a key part of the peace education that students receive at Casa di Mir. Through it, students gain a deeper emotional awareness of themselves and others, and develop peaceful resolution skills that lead to a positive learning environment and are essential for social success.

This Code of Living sun was created by Casa di Mir upper elementary students. Each ray contains a universal need shared by all people.

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Where is the Science? Everywhere!

By Wanda Whitehead

In today’s educational climate the focus on math and science is heightened. When we think of science and math, stereotypical visions of lab coats, test tubes, and formulae often come to mind.

Finding the science in everyday objects: A lower elementary student presented her findings on the effects of common liquids on eggs during Casa di Mir’s 2017 Elementary Science Fair.

More important than these stereotypes are the methods and skills that underpin the work scientists do. When asked what are the most important skills needed in the field of science, the following items consistently appear at the top of the lists:

  • observational skills, keen use of senses
  • classifying/measuring skills
  • analytic/critical thinking
  • thoroughly practiced in the scientific method
  • communication skills
  • inference/predicting skills
  • order and precision
  • collecting data
  • drive to discover/curiosity

The Montessori Connection

As a scientist and medical doctor, Maria Montessori placed great value in these skills. She was motivated to see students develop these skills in a context of understanding the planet they live on and the life with which they share it.

She strongly advocated that the young child should be filled with a love and curiosity for the magic of the real world.

Her views deeply influenced her development of the Montessori curriculum from infancy through adolescence. These skills are embedded in the work throughout the classrooms. Hands-on experiences, encouragement of exploration and questioning provide daily practice and promote these skills to become a part of the individual’s thinking processes.

Vital science skills are encouraged and nurtured at every level, primary, elementary, and middle school.


The sensorial area of materials is dedicated to the development of observation, sense of measurement and gradation, love of order and pattern, and the development of the senses. (Early exercise and development of the senses is one of the most important activities for brain development.) When your child is developing keen senses through these materials, they are developing skills and neural pathways that will enhance their scientific thinking in the future.

Practical Life activities provide experiences in classification, order, and observation. The small motor activities prepare kids for pouring, mixing, using hardware and tools. Cooking is one of the first “science lab” experiences in which young children can participate.

Think about it… measuring, observing, mixing of chemicals/compounds, following prescribed steps, experiencing results – all scientific skills!


Montessori recognized that the elementary child is naturally curious, always the asker of magnificent questions, and able to ponder the vastness of the answers through his/her wonderful imagination. The heart of the elementary program is the study of such big questions—the origins of the universe and the beginnings of life. Montessori’s Great Lessons are designed to open doors.

Imagine the topics that we can include in the big discussions of the origins of the universe and of life on this planet: super nova’s, formation of our solar system and the plans, the transformation of the Earth from a toxic place to one where life flourishes, the evolution of life, and the studies of the different life forms from microorganisms to mammals.

Earth sciences continue with the study of land and water formations, the movement of tectonic plates, formation of rocks, and the creation of soil. While Geography includes the political landscape, it also includes the study of biomes and the interconnectedness of temperature, precipitation, soil, plants and animals.

Throughout the elementary program, students study the classification of life, plant and animal external and internal structures, and the physiology of plants and animals including humans. A part of the Human Growth class for 5th and 6th graders focuses on the maturing human body.

Middle School:

Emphasis on critical thinking, integration of subjects, and synthesis of knowledge is at the root of our middle school curriculum. Process and thinking skills are as important as acquiring concepts in all the areas of study.

Much of the biology studies at this level are farm-based and hands-on. In depth study areas include soil, microorganisms, chemistry, cell structures, plants and animals. Environments and sustainability are also important topics that are covered. In the physics classes, students design and carry out experiments, present their data, discuss and debate their findings, and create hypotheses for follow-up experiments.

The Montessori Student as Critical Thinker

All along the way we see students developing their critical thinking skills, acquiring knowledge, and synthesizing their understanding in hands-on experiences. Critical thinking is key to scientific thinking. It is a reflective and analytical style of thinking with its basis in logic, rationality, and synthesis. It means delving deeper and asking questions like: Why is that so? Where is the evidence? How good is that evidence? Is this a good argument? Is it biased? Is it verifiable? What are the alternative explanations?

This is an essential skill for life that has tremendous importance in science—in fact, in all learning—AND essential for anyone navigating the barrage of “information” we now receive electronically.

Statistics have established a link between critical thinking and improved decision-making. But the idea of “teaching” critical thinking is itself an oxymoron: critical thinking can really only be learned through practice.

Students get this practice throughout the day in a Montessori classroom. We see it in the planning of the day, hands-on experiences with materials, in the problem-solving that takes place in community meetings over social issues, and in the project-based learning where students pursue their own questions.

Our students are often complimented on their curiosity and thinking skills by docents and teachers of the schools they transition to when they leave Casa di Mir. It is a testament to the fact that science and the specific skills needed by scientists and engineers and proactive citizens are front and center in the Casa di Mir Montessori programs.


About the author: Wanda Whitehead is Casa di Mir Montessori School founder and Director of Education, and former head of school (1989-2018).

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Media Rules: Healthy Connections in the Digital Age

By Wanda Whitehead

I recently attended a talk by Catherine Steiner-Adair hosted by Challenge Successes on the Stanford campus. Catherine is an internationally recognized clinical psychologist who has been researching the impact of technology on children, families and society. Her book, The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age, is the best in the field. I took notes and here they are.

Ms. Steiner-Adair begun with a shout out, “Media Rules!” Looking a little more closely led to different ways of understanding this exclamation. Media is cool, awe-inspiring. Or, we should know and share safety rules for media. Or, media rules our lives. All are true!

Below is a summary from my notes of main points made in the first part of her presentation:

  • There is an interesting paradox between staying connected 24/7 as never before and the diminishing quality of connection caused by these devices.
  • There is a loss of boundary between work and home that is impacting family time and connection.
  • The web is an adult world, children 10, 11, 12 are not ready psychologically and emotionally to enter this world.
  • Parents often cannot see their own addiction and suffer real separation anxiety with their devices just as toddlers do with separation from their “blankies” and bears.
  • When parents are on their devices, children suffer loss of connection and a sense they are not as important as the unknown person on the other side of the phone.
  • In the last 9 years there has been greater change in attitudes in two norms: the first, the interruption of conversation (every ping interrupts.) AND second, frequency and depth of sadness, anxiety, depression in children. They can’t seem to get or hold their parents’ attention. This huge spike in anxiety and depression that can be traced to overuse of devices.
  • Phone/texting- is a stimulus-craving experience.
  • Empathy and listening skills have decreased and are measurably linked to device use.
  • Texting hijacks the prefrontal cortex. The science shows humans really can’t multi-task and pay the attention needed to two or more things at the same time. We can phase back and forth to some degree, but cannot give full attention to two things simultaneously.
  • Texting and driving – parents think and often say to their kids: “this is important,” “don’t tell your father,” “I am an excellent driver and I can handle this,” “tell me if you see a cop.” Sound familiar?
  • Parents need to look at themselves to see what they are really modeling for their kids.

Through short skits during her presentation, Ms. Steiner-Adair emphasized these extremely important guidelines for the use of our many screen devices:

NO DEVICES in the Car, at the Dinner Table, or in the Bedroom.

Why not in the car? Cars are a great place for conversation. Using a device demonstrates that the child is less important than this person on the phone.

Why not at the meal table? People’s ability to stay in conversation decays with devices there. The meal table is a perfect language lab to develop conversation.

Why not in the bedroom? Sleep deprivation, difficulties in monitoring screen use. Blue screen and quick changing lights on the screen block the brain from making melatonin. Melatonin is essential for sleep and healthy brain waves for rest and relaxation.

Ms Steiner-Adair gave specific advice to the adults in the audience to replace cell phone use in the bedroom with simple alarm clocks. Give yourself time to wake up and consciously process how you are before the outside world comes into your day. Prevent the cell phone “world” from eroding the first relationships of the day with your partner and children.

  • Non-academic time on screens for teens averages 9 hours a day- let this soak in!
    9 hours, more than a third of the day…
  • Everyone struggles with self-regulation, adults and kids
  • 56% of students will say they are addicted. On average a teen checks their phone 60-100
    times a day.

What is happening to the brain in all of this, particularly for youth and teens? Our children are developing very different brains with diminished neurological pathways. The quick changes in screens exhausts the brain, diminishes thinking capacity and the development of neurons. The dopamine released in this high stimulus situation creates “feel good” experiences particularly more intense for teens. This sets the stage for any behavioral or substance addiction, not just screen addiction.

Social Networking is creating 24/7 drama resulting in drops in grades, self-esteem issues, damages to short term and long term memory. Studies show that when there is a device interruption in studying, the student loses the last 9 minutes of what was studied prior to the interruption. So if the ping is happening every couple of minutes….

Our children will say: Texting is a needed break from studying. Fact: Texting is not taking a break for the brain. It is a stimulus that seems like a boost but is actually the opposite.

Social Media:

  • A very real challenge for Middle school and High school students is they get little BREAK from DRAMA because the social media they are on is full of the constant emotional ups and downs from other adolescents.
  • Social media is a place where values may not be those of the family. It can be a culture of humiliation, bullying. With their anonymity they may behave irresponsibly and can be incredibly mean.
  • Do not text kids during school. It can be a huge anxiety issue.
  • The average age of a child receiving a smart phone is now 10 years old.
  • 75% of students by the 7th grade have been exposed to porn.
  • Online dating/hooking up increases the possibility for dangerous situations.
  • Students say that with social media they can act like they don’t care, can say whatever they want, or are indifferent to the feelings of others.

Ms. Steiner-Adair clarified that students can use social media well, that today’s children are very globally minded, and a large percentage of time is spent positively. Parents need to understand how to help them with the significant percentage of poor use.

What to Do to Help Students

  • Be a good role model, self-regulate, show what you really value.
  • Teach students about the effects of digital devices on their brains. We teach about brains on drugs, but neglect a very real danger for the developing brain. This real information will come in handy when they develop their own self-regulation around devices.

Specific Solutions:

  1. PDF time: Play time, Down time, Family time with no screens
  2. No devices after 9pm for teens/adults and earlier for younger children
  3. Have students set some of the rules around self-regulation of devices
  4. Take the phone out of the study space or check the phone in with parent when studying
  5. REAL books before bedtime is very calming
  6. Homework is not productive after 10pm
  7. Teens need 9.5 hours of sleep every night, essential for growth, development and
    emotional well-being.
  8. Parents must follow through on the limits set, which can be hard when the parent
    themselves can’t regulate their own use of devices.

For more of the science behind this information read Dr. Steiner-Adair’s book mentioned above. She shares more ideas on how to create a balance in the family that preserves family relationships and the natural development of your child.

Media Rules: Healthy Connections in the Digital Age, Fall 2016. Now available on YouTube:


About the author: Wanda Whitehead is Casa di Mir Montessori School founder and Director of Education, and former head of school (1989-2018).

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Casa di Mir Parent to Parent Group on Facebook

The parents of Casa di Mir Montessori school are a warm, caring bunch who are fun to rub elbows with. They also live in multiple zip codes, and need a place to connect and converse with one another outside the school.

Welcome to Casa di Mir Parent to Parent Group on Facebook. This is that place. There, Casa di Mir parents can connect with other parents to:

  • Find a running partner
  • Donate household items, equipment, stuff the kids have outgrown…
  • Get social. Set up a playdate, coffee or a “parents only” get together
  • Get recommendations for babysitters, doctors, kid-friendly activities
  • Share parenting tips and insights

These are just a few examples. Join Casa’s Parent to Parent Group today and start connecting.

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