Montessori Basics: Geography

Geography: a science that deals with the description, distribution, and interaction of the diverse physical, biological, and cultural features of the earth's surface

Geography is a commonly taught subject in most schools, with children learning about maps, the globe, and various countries and land features. Montessori schools do this as well, but as with most subjects, we tend to take things a bit deeper (even for our younger students). This article highlights the scope of our geography curriculum.

One point to note: Montessori teaches children beginning with a ‘big picture’ view, while slowly narrowing in on details. We believe this makes information more developmentally appropriate as well as giving children a sense of the interconnectedness of all things. This approach also leads to some overlap with other subject areas, which is a good thing!

Globes, Maps, and Physical Features of the Earth

Geography work starts early in our primary classes. Children begin with an introduction to three different globes; one is blue with sandpaper continents, the next is blue with smooth white continents, and the third is blue with colorful continents. Montessori materials have specific colors designated for each continent: Africa is green, Asia is yellow, Australia is brown, Antarctica is white, South America is pink, North America is orange, and Europe is red. These early globe experiences help give children a sense of the roundness of Earth and the differences between major areas of land and water.

Children then move on to using the puzzle maps; a classic Montessori material. They begin with a map of the continents that utilizes the same colors they learned on the early globe, and then explore puzzles for each continent of the world. There are also more specialized puzzles available, including one of the fifty states, the provinces of Canada, etc. These are first used in the primary class but continue through lower elementary.

The last set of specifically created maps - the pin maps - are used in elementary, and children are encouraged to use an atlas as a control of error while they work. This material incorporates wooden maps with predrilled holes in each country. Children use small label flags that are meant to be inserted into the correct spot.

Also beginning during the primary years and continuing through the early elementary years, children learn about land and water forms. This includes the parts of a mountain, the parts of a river, and the names of a wide variety of land and water formations.

Creation Stories

As part of the science and history curriculum, elementary children are told the creation of the universe story once per year. This important lesson is based on today’s scientific evidence, but we feel it’s important to honor the many other creation stories throughout history. That’s why we also take the time to read tales that span a wide variety of cultures. There are many learning extensions that can be applied, such as discussing the similarities and differences between cultures, having children create artwork to represent the stories, or even having small groups of children act them out.

Laws of Attraction and States of Matter

When we tell children the story of the creation of the universe, we do it with a series of props laid out before them. When we talk about the behavior of particles, we show them a visual example. When we talk about the formation of the planets, we touch upon the three states of matter on Earth. We teach them how temperature and force affect these states, and how ultimately this has an impact on the formation and continuous changing of our planet.

This introduction segues into a series of experiments that children are able to complete independently (after an introduction and safety rules, of course!). Materials for the experiments are set upon the shelves, along with instructions. While most people would consider this science - as it is - we consider it part of our geography curriculum even though this is one of the most obvious points of overlap.

The Sun and the Earth

The elementary geography curriculum is complimented by a series of charts that visually illustrate important information. Some are diagrams while others are impressionistic drawings. These charts are particularly helpful when teaching about the sun and the earth.

We start simply, by teaching children about Earth’s orbit around the sun as well as its rotation on its own axis. This leads into many lessons about concepts like day and night, the seasons, the zones of the earth, and even time zones.

A good deal of time is spent teaching children about the composition of the earth. This includes the different layers, but also the formation of mountains, faults, and volcanoes.

The Work of Wind