We believe that play in the outdoor environment is one of the most valuable experiences for children to develop skills that will serve them throughout their life. Accordingly, outdoor activity is a fundamental part of the learning environment at Montecito. The 2-acre campus is filled with trees, plants, animals and insects. We lovingly care for domestic small animals and birds in walk-in habitats and aviaries. Children’s natural curiosity is encouraged as they observe, touch, ask questions and build their understanding about how to respect and learn from the animals. Montecito’s enthusiastic teachers embed activities such as nature study walks into the outdoor activities, providing children with opportunities to experience the world of science and nature through their senses. We carefully designed, constructed and landscaped play yards and habitats that are safe, accessible and inviting to young children. A space we call the “Bike Circle” is a large circular open space where children build gross motor skills as they make decisions about which bikes to ride, wagons to pull, and whether they want to play on the tree swing, walk a balance beam, look for insects, and crawl through a tunnel or water the garden. We also created dramatic play stations where children engage in role playing and imaginary play, which helps support language development and builds social interaction skills.
Montecito classrooms are designed to provide the optimum learning experiences for children. Upon entering the classroom it can be observed that there are at least six (6) learning centers including: Blocks, dramatic play, science, listening/writing, music/movement and story/quiet corner. Each of the learning centers are furnished with age-appropriate materials displayed in order to promote exploration-- a skill that is known to support language acquisition and cognitive development. Children develop at different rates so materials in each learning center reflect varying degrees of challenge and are rotated to provide new challenges and to support children’s intellectual growth. Children are always connected to their outdoor environment, even when in the classrooms. Large classroom windows let in natural light and expose children to the ever-changing skies and seasons of nature. Animal cages, terrariums, fish tanks and bird houses can also be found inside each classroom or play yard. Children name the animals; learn about life cycles and the types and groups of animals found in nature. If they desire, children learn to gently hold the animals and may help feed them.