Ready for the Universe: Geography for the Elementary Age
When children enter a Montessori elementary classroom around age six, they have undergone a great transformation. Whereas they previously wanted and needed to explore their immediate environment on a sensorial level, now they want and need to explore by using their intellect and imagination.
The study of geography takes on a whole new meaning at this age when children are fascinated by the smallest particles and the largest stars. They want to know why the seasons differ in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. They are curious about what made the Grand Canyon. They want to know why ocean currents affect the weather.
This desire to know why propels children to discover relationships and functions, not just learn facts. They are also fascinated by the extreme and the outstanding. They are drawn to the very large and the very small. They ask Why? What for? How is this related?
Elementary-age children have a consuming interest in everything! To cater to this all-embracing thirst for the reasons of everything, we begin with the universe. One of the earliest lessons we introduce is the story of the universe. From this first story, children are delighted by a myriad of lessons and activities which fall under the general heading of ‘geography.'
Beginning with the universe gives elementary children a big-picture context. In Montessori, rather than encountering bits of disconnected knowledge, children learn about the order and harmony of the universe, as well as the relationships that exist between all things.
“If the idea of the universe be presented to the child in the right way, it will do more for him than just arouse his interest, for it will create in him admiration and wonder, a feeling loftier than any interest and more satisfying. The child's mind then will become fixed and can work. The knowledge he then acquires is organized and systematic; his intelligence becomes whole and complete because of the vision of the whole that has been presented to him and his interest spreads to all, for all are linked and have their place in the universe on which his mind is centered.” — Dr. Maria Montessori, To Educate the Human Potential
Dr. Montessori observed that children around the world tended to ask similar questions at this age. The geography presentations and lessons support these fundamental reoccurring questions.