What Makes Casa di Mir Special and Unique

By Wanda Whitehead

“From the very beginning, Casa di Mir taught me to think differently about education.” –Aaron Shuler

What makes Casa di Mir a unique school community, a treasure in the sea of many schools? Let me count the ways:

  1. Trained Montessori teaching faculty implementing a curriculum designed specifically for the developing child at each stage of growth
  2. The time, energy, and care our teachers invest in their relationship with each child to understand and meet the needs of each child to their best ability
  3. A strong academic program
  4. A curriculum that includes music, art, dance, Aikido, Spanish, educational field trips, and service learning projects
  5. The opportunity to practice independence, take initiative and explore personal interests
  6. A social/emotional curriculum based on character development and education for peace
  7. A like-minded parent community who share the values of a Montessori education and who wish their children to grow up in a wholesome environment
  8. Traditions and celebrations that are cornerstones of the school and that make a lifelong impression
  9. Mindfulness practices that teach self-reflection and self-regulation
  10. We encourage mistakes and the opportunity to learn from them
  11. A place to find acceptance.

It is the balance and blend (kaleidoscope) of all of these elements that makes a rewarding experience possible for our students, every day.

Writing the words in the bullet points above forsakes the passion and energy that infuses their implementation in our community and in our classrooms. The words themselves are often overused in education and can’t convey the actual experience we provide.

There is so much opportunity in our classrooms for the real experiences of teamwork, creativity, and leadership. Children are not confined to a desk or to be receptacles for other’s knowledge. As William Yeats said, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” The outcomes of our “igniting the fire” for our students are: confidence, joy in learning, a strong sense of self, appreciation for others, and an assurance that whatever the situation, “I can handle it.” Walk into any classroom any time and you will see action toward these goals.

Ask an alumni and you might hear something very similar to what Aaron Shuler (2004) shared with me recently:

“From the very beginning, Casa di Mir taught me to think differently about education. It provided me incredible freedom to express myself, as well as follow wherever my curiosity led. Learning became something that I was doing, not just something that was being fed to me. School was an exploration, a journey upon which I embarked, filled with surprises and wonder. I was the master of my own experience…

Of course, upon reflection, I can see that I was not alone on this journey. Throughout my experience, those around me encouraged me in self direction with an incredible warmth and compassion. They empowered me. They focused my curiosity. Indeed, they inspired me to bring the love of learning they gave me to others.

Now, as I embark upon a career in education, I often think back to how my Casa teachers might help a struggling student, or how they would inspire a group of first graders to give an epic Cultural Night performance. My mission is to bring the Casa experience to all of my students, so that they might be inspired too.”

This is what makes Casa a special place to grow and learn!


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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Alumni Update: Q&A with Niuniu Teo

“I’ve always been grateful for my Montessori experience,” says Niuniu Teo

Last grade completed at Casa di Mir: 5th grade

What memories from Casa di Mir still make you smile? Aikido, the peace making table, Wanda’s Buddhist singing bowl, warm fuzzies… everything!

What skills do you still draw on from your experience at Casa di Mir? So much. Everything from the way I consciously avoid “accusatory” sentence structures when I work through disagreements with people to the way I break big projects down into manageable assignments and write them down in an old school planner.

Where did your education lead you after Casa? I attended Pinewood School 6th-12th grade, Stanford University for undergrad (majoring in History). And now I am at Peking University in Beijing, China for my master’s degree in Chinese Studies.

Tell us more about what your current studies. What is your favorite part? As previously mentioned, I’m now getting my master’s in Chinese Studies at Peking University through a scholarship program called Yenching Academy. My favorite part of this experience is how international our community is—my cohort consists of 126 students from more than 40 countries, and getting to know just how small and interconnected our world truly is has been an incredibly enlightening experience.

My research interests primarily focus on modern Chinese history. Something I find fulfilling about this, aside from understanding a part of my own history, is examining how humans can have identical wants and needs, yet create ways of collectively being that are incredibly different from each other, and often unintelligible to each other.

What’s next on your journey? My penchant for telling stories and explaining people to each other has also led me to gravitate towards journalism. One of my favorite jobs I’ve had thus far is working for KQED’s Forum.  I find journalism to be rewarding and grounding in ways that academia isn’t, and so I hope to continue my involvement in the more “public” sphere of journalism, even as I apply to PhD programs for this upcoming year.

Is there anything else you’d like to add? I’ve always been grateful for my Montessori experience.


This article is from the 2016-17 Annual Report: Our Vibrant Community. Download your copy today and see all articles.

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The 2016-2017 Annual Report: Our Vibrant Community

The 2016-17 Annual Report: Our Vibrant Community is now available as a pdf. Thank you to all our supporters for making last year another fantastic year of learning and growing the Casa di Mir way!


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What is play? What is work?

By Wanda Whitehead

Montessori provided guidance in creating learning environments that are both work and play at the same time. She did not see them as opposites.

I often get asked the question, is the Montessori primary program “play-based” (a popular term) or are there any academics? This seems to imply that one is exclusive of the other. Is one work and the other play? Can work be play-based?

I found it fun to go to the dictionary to see what is said about the words work and play. Would it shed any light on this question?

The word “work” has a page-long definition in the American Heritage Dictionary. Here is just the first line of it:

  • work (work) n. 1. Physical or mental effort or activity directed toward the production or accomplishment of something. V. 1. To exert oneself physically or mentally to do, make, or accomplish something.

When you watch your children at an activity, I am sure you have seen them direct all of themselves to their purpose. Most of the time when you see this, you would say they are at play! The negative context of work is not experienced by the young child. They simply give effort at everything they do to master something or accomplish something or learn something!!

The definition of the word “play” in the American Heritage Dictionary is nearly as long as the word “work.”

  • Play (pla) v. 1. To occupy oneself in amusement, sport or other recreation. (amuse: to occupy in an agreeable, pleasing fashion.)

When self care activities are amusing, is it work or play? When academic activities capture the imagination and therefore are amusing or entertaining, are they work or play? When activities that take effort and focus are fun, are they work or play?

Activity with effort is the way children go about everything they do! Even when building sandcastles you can see the intention, focus and pride in the work/play accomplished. Montessori recognized this and brought these terms together in describing activity in the Montessori classroom.  She observed that work and play are really synonymous for children. We adults use play and work much more as antitheses of one another categorizing pleasurable or less pleasurable activities or “want to do” from “have to do” activities. To Montessori, and young children, there is very little distinction.  From this concept, Montessori constructed the classroom environments. She designed materials and activities that are both fun, engaging, and instructional, blending pleasure with effort and a desired outcome.

Montessori provided guidance in creating learning environments that are both work and play at the same time. She did not see them as opposites. All the activities in the classrooms require the effort and engagement needed for any work activity or play activity. Carrying the red rods to the mat is fun. It is also first math experiences with quantity and measurement. Laying out the beautiful glass beads to show quantity for the symbols “1” or “6” or “10” is fun and creative in many cases; it is also a math “work.” There is a purpose for learning behind all the fun materials in the classrooms, all designed to engage children at a specific developmental phase.

The different attitudes around “work” and “play” are adult constructs. I wish we could create a new word that would mean the blend of these two activities, especially when it comes to describing the activity of learning.

The Montessori classroom is full of work opportunities that children playfully engage in while they are learning. Focusing on the joy of working hard to accomplish something is important. Preserving the blend of work/play in learning activities is a goal in the Montessori classroom. From this comes the experience of joyful learning that we want for our children.

The Casa di Mir Montessori School classroom exemplifies the joy of work as play and play as “work.” For those interested in giving their child the gift of a Montessori education, it is worth visiting one of our classrooms to observe students engaged in this way. Email or call 408-370-3073 to schedule your visit.

For more information on Casa’s primary, elementary and middle school programs, visit the Student Life page.

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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2017 Parent Survey Results

In April 2017, Casa di Mir’s Board of Directors conducted a survey of parents. The Board’s goal in undertaking the survey was to better understand: what parents value, what is needed to make Casa the most remarkable school for our children, and how to more effectively attract new families.



A high proportion participated in the survey: 73%. The Board received 29 responses from primary, 37 from lower elementary, 22 from upper elementary, and 9 from the middle school. This high participation rate allows the school’s leadership to confidently act on the information received.

The overall takeaway was that parents voiced a resounding satisfaction with and support for Casa di Mir. They also identified areas where they felt the school could improve. On the whole, however, parents were happy with the school. A full 93% said they would be likely or very likely to recommend Casa di Mir to a friend.


The Top 3

The survey asked parents to share their top three reasons for choosing Casa di Mir versus other schools. By far the biggest reason was a Montessori education, cited by 79%. Other highly significant factors were Casa’s emphasis on social-emotional development, cited by 51%; and the friendly and respectful learning environment, cited by 47%.

The survey also asked parents what they loved most about Casa di Mir. Here are some excerpts taken from their answers:


Write-in Responses

Looking more closely at the themes that emerged from the write-in responses, the top themes were: the teachers and staff, the warm learning environment, the way Casa develops children to be responsible and caring, and the community.

It’s no surprise that Casa di Mir teachers and staff came out on top! Casa di Mir is incredibly lucky to have talented, caring, and dedicated individuals to guide the students in their learning. Casa will continue to invest in teacher training and support, such as the “Teach for Life!” program that Casa teachers participated in over the summer of 2017.

Parents also voiced that the combination of an authentic Montessori education—with emphasis on social-emotional development—and peaceful learning environment sets the school apart from any other school in the South Bay.

This information has been a great help in identifying the top qualities that resonate with, and attract, families to Casa di Mir.


Casa Family Community

From survey results, the Board gained an even deeper appreciation that one of Casa di Mir’s greatest assets is its community of families, who collectively create a warm, welcoming, diverse, “homey” feel to the school.

To that end, here are some of the ways the school is working to further develop and strengthen community bonds among families:

  • The creation of an “ambassador” program for new families, to welcome new families and help them connect more easily with the larger family community.
  • Development of the Parent 2 Parent (P2P) group on Facebook and through live in-person activities. P2P is Casa’s parent based group designed specifically to connect families with one another beyond the confines of the campus. Activities include: morning hikes, drum circles, monthly coffee talks, parents night out, camping trips, and more.
  • Development of an alumni program for former students and alumni families. The school launched The Journey, a new alumni newsletter in August 2017, to help keep former students and families connected. The Board is also investigating ways to develop alumni events and other get together activities to keep alumni connected.


Areas of Improvement

The survey also asked about areas where the school could improve. The area most mentioned were facilities, communications, and after-school offerings.

Casa’s leadership team, together with the Board, has been actively exploring ways to address these areas of concern. For instance:

  • Facilities Improvements: Facilities improvements are part of Casa’s 2016-17 Strategic Plan and are on-going. Currently, Casa is looking at improvements, such as reconfiguring the front office. In addition, over the summer of 2017, the Latimer parking lot was resurfaced, parts of the school received a fresh coat of paint, and HVAC repairs and upgrades.
  • Communications: Improving communications is also an on-going part of Casa’s Strategic Plan. To date, Casa di Mir teachers have increased communications with parents through a software program called Transparent Classroom, which gives parents a window into their students’ activities at the school. In addition, the weekly Monday newsletter has a new mobile-friendly format for easier access. The school’s social media posts have also increased to keep our larger audience aware of the school’s mission and highlights of the school year.
  • After-School Programs: Offerings have increased in number and diversity. And new programs are continuously under consideration. Current programs include: piano lessons, chess class, Aikido, Lego-Robotics, studio art, and more.

The Board values all of the areas that parents identified for improvement. Changes big and small are being made based on the survey results to further strengthen the school.



The Board is deeply grateful for the time and sincerity of the respondents. The feedback received from the survey clarified the picture of what families value about Casa di Mir and which areas needed further attention. The Board thanks all participants and looks forward to reporting the results of future surveys!

To provide feedback on this report, ask questions about the survey or the Board, or for information on joining the Board or a committee, contact Board member Catherine Ambrozewicz.

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Montessori: Creating a World of Peace One Student at a Time

By Diane Dunning

In an authentic Montessori classroom, peace education is as much a part of a Montessori student’s curriculum as math or language.


Maria Montessori, founder of the Montessori Method, lived through the tragedy of World War I, the totalitarianism of the 1920s and 1930s, and the devastations of World War II. And yet she saw that the world could be made beautiful.

After a lifetime of observing children, she was convinced that they were the keys to transforming mankind and bringing about lasting peace, if educated through peace.

“We must lay the foundation for peace ourselves by constructing a social environment, a new world for the child and adolescent, so that their individual conscience may develop,” said Montessori.

She developed and implemented an education for peace as the core driver of the Montessori curriculum. By replacing the study of isolated subjects with an integrated view of life, children gain a better understanding the consequences of their choices.

“What I hear and see time and time again from the adults who were once our students is that no matter what profession they choose, they have a burning desire to serve and to lift humanity up.”

In an authentic Montessori classroom, peace education is as much a part of a Montessori student’s curriculum as math or language. Peace education starts by honoring the individual. Montessori classrooms are characterized by: personal freedom for each student to learn at his or her own pace; guidance–not authoritarian rule–by teachers; caring for the community, with interactions based on honor, trust, compassion, and respect; and caring for the planet. Peace education is not so much about limiting negative behavior as it is about guiding positive choice for a respectful experience and outcome.

Wanda Whitehead, head of Casa di Mir Montessori School (1989-2018), explains, “Education for peace is the creation of a whole education and curriculum that, because of its core and its many elements, prepares students for choices, actions, and thought in life, to create a peaceful life, whether simple or grand in scope.”

She adds, “The work of peace is hard work, courageous work. It is work that looks to see another’s need while caring for oneself.”

At the primary level, ages 3 to 6, teachers guide students to understand their own feelings and needs and to learn to identify these in others. They learn to take turns speaking and listening.  This strengthening of self-awareness are the precursors to conflict resolution. In addition, the Montessori lessons of Grace and Courtesy help children demonstrate respect for each other, the environment, and the classroom materials through action.

At the elementary level, ages 6 to 12, language for conflict resolution skills is expanded as the child grows socially. Classrooms have a peace table or designated area, where two children can go to resolve a conflict. First they decide if they have come to calm before sitting down. Each takes a turn respectfully explaining to the other how they feel and what they need until each has heard the other and the conflict is resolved. Teachers model appropriate behavior and teach the language of resolution.

At the middle school level, ages 12 to 14, peace education takes into account the enormity of change in the adolescent. There is continued focus on conflict resolution. The concept of social justice is more broadly explored through their studies of society as well as among themselves.

Intrinsic to the Montessori curriculum, an education by and through peace emphasizes common origins with other people, other species, Earth, and the universe. As a result, peace becomes a habit. Students feel the drive to make the world more peaceful, socially just, and respectful of nature.

“What I hear and see time and time again from the adults who were once our students,” says Whitehead, who founded Casa di Mir in 1989, “is that no matter what profession they choose, they have a burning desire to serve and to lift humanity up. They find ways to fulfill this drive energized by their inner core of values from the education for peace they received.”

About the author: Diane Dunning is Casa di Mir Director of Development and Communications.


Infographic content from Wanda Whitehead, Casa di Mir Montessori School founder and Director of Education, and former head of school (1989-2018).



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It’s the 4th Annual Middle School Holiday Cafe and Boutique!

Come to the Middle School Holiday Cafe & Boutique. You’ll find over 100 handmade cutting boards and so much more!

One of the finest shopping experiences of the holiday season is at Casa di Mir on Monday, December 11! And it’s open to the public.

Find handmade one-of-a-kind gifts for everyone on your list. Or treat yourself to something special. There’s so much to choose from at the 4th annual Casa di Mir Middle School Holiday Cafe and Boutique. Morning hours are 10 am to 12:30 pm and afternoon hours are 2:30 pm to 4:30 pm. Location: Room K60 at the Campbell Community Center.

You’ll be impressed and amazed at the festive handiwork of Casa middle schoolers.

Enjoy bake sale goodies, warm drinks, and boutique items. Profits support the students’ 2019 trip to the Montessori Model United Nations Conference.

Bake sale items will be priced at $1 each, with a few of the fancier items priced at $2 each. Boutique items include candy cane mice, sugar scrub, tiny gift bags (both Christmas-themed and winter-themed), tessellation note cards with envelopes, wrapped yarn Christmas trees, gourmet hot chocolate mix, and our big ticket item — cutting boards! There will even be the opportunity to see and bid on the 800-piece cutting board in the silent auction.
Bring a friend. This is a one-of-a-kind event not to be missed!

From sugar scrubs to bake sale items, there’s plenty of holiday treats to be purchased for you and your loved ones.

What: Middle School Holiday Cafe and Boutique
When: Monday, December 11. Time: 10am to 12:30pm; 2:30pm to 4:30pm
Where: Room K60 at the CCC
Why: One of a kind handmade gifts and delicious bake sale items for purchase
Who: Everyone! It’s open to the public.

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Silent Auction Cutting Board; 800 Pieces Hand Laid

Don’t get cut out of the chance to take home this one-of-a-kind handmade cutting board. It may be yours if you make the winning bid during the silent auction.

Here are the details:

Made by Casa di Mir parent Ken Bower while supporting the middle school cutting board project.

All hardwoods, all end grain. Measures 12½ ” x 22¾ ” x  ⅞” oversized. Unique hand laid custom pattern of more than 800 pieces.

Each of 18 strips contain:

  • 6 African Mahogany (reddish brown)
  • 12 Black Walnut (dark brown)
  • 3 Cherry (light red)
  • 8 Maple (white)
  • 9-10 Sapele (dark red)
  • 7 White Oak (light brown)

All proceeds go to support the Middle School’s 2019 trip to the Montessori Model United Nations Conference.

Bidding opened at $100. Comparable price on   $150-$350. Deadline to Bid: 6:30 pm 12/14/2017 at the Casa Holiday Gathering. Current bid: $160

Bid sheet will be available:

  • At the Latimer office from Wed-Fri 12/6 thru 12/8
  • At the Middle School, room K60 at the Campbell Community Center (CCC) on Mon 12/11 during the Middle School Holiday Café from 10:00 am-12:30 pm and 2:30 pm-4:30 pm
  • At the CCC Casa office, room D40 from Tue-Thu 12/12 thru 12/14
  • At the Casa Holiday Party on 12/14 until 6:30 pm. (Note: If there is last minute rush of bidding at the party, the board will be auctioned off live.)

Make your bid today!

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Yoga Improves Executive Functions in Students

The introduction of yoga into Casa di Mir’s curriculum was based on recent studies showing that exercise and mindfulness such as yoga, increase the development of executive functions…

By Cathy Zoeckler, Casa di Mir Lower Elementary Teacher

Have you noticed Casa’s lower elementary children practicing yoga in the multipurpose room on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings? What a wonderfully peaceful way to begin a day! The children really enjoy the refreshing calm and time to focus on breathing – but it also improves their ability to learn.

The introduction of yoga into Casa di Mir’s curriculum was based on recent studies showing that exercise and mindfulness such as yoga, increase the development of executive functions (EFs) that affect paying attention, thinking and planning.

Core EFs consist of flexibility, inhibition, and working memory; more complex EFs are problem solving, reasoning and planning1. Maria Montessori called it “normalization” when children become so engaged in working that no amount of distraction could pull them away. She believed that love of work, concentration, self-discipline and sociability all must be present for the normalization process to occur2. Developing EFs is an important part of the learning process.

Casa di Mir is so fortunate to have two parent yoga practitioners to guide the students this year. Amene Mahboobi leads LE2 children on Tuesdays, and Bay Thongtheppairot leads LE1 students on Wednesday mornings. Casa parents, if you would like to start your morning with a Sun Salutation, you are invited to come and join us!


  • 1National Institute for Mental Health (2012). Retrieved from:​ ​disorder/ADHD_Booklet_CL508_144426.pdf, rev. 2012
  • 2Montessori, M. (1949)The Absorbent Mind. Thiruvanmiyur: Kalakshetra Publications

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