Geography and History For The Montessori
Geography helps children to discover new things about the place they live in. Usually, the first thing a child will want to find out about is the location of their home on planet Earth. If you can, get yourself a globe so that your child can look at it whenever he wants to.
Some Montessori schools have sandpaper globes, which help distinguish land and water. They feature the continents with brown, rough textured paint, while the oceans are smooth and blue. You can make your own; for this, you will need:
- A large Styrofoam ball (available in most craft stores),
- Blue paint,
- Liquid glue,
- Some sand.
How to do it:
- Paint the whole Styrofoam ball in blue.
- Draw the continents on it and then spread glue all over their surface.
- Put a thick layer of sand on some old newspapers and roll the ball over it, so that the sand adheres to the glue, creating areas which are rough to the touch.
- You will have to be very careful to avoid the glue from dripping. Clean the stains of glue and sand as fast as you can.
- Leave it to dry on a wooden skewer.
This sandpaper globe is great to distinguish land from water, talk about our planet’s shape, etc.
I’d recommend getting an ordinary globe too. If possible, get one with each continent in a different colour.
Things you can do with a globe:
- Find your country and your city,
- Find the North and the South hemispheres.
- Print pictures of animals and find where their home is.
- Print flags of different countries and try to place them on the globe.
The Solar System
Learning about the Solar System allows children to understand the position of our planet in the universe. You can create a Solar System with construction paper or Styrofoam balls.
The one in the image is made out of paper, and you can use it to discuss many topics, such as:
- The names of the planets,
- Its distance from the Sun (which ones are closer, which ones are further away; which ones are colder, which ones are warmer, etc.),
- How the planets orbit around the Sun.
Solar System model.
Continents, oceans, countries of the world
Montessori schools have wooden puzzles of the continents, which feature each continent as a separate piece, which the child can lift and explore with his hands.
Such a puzzle is not so easy to make at home, but you can prepare slightly different materials which serve the same purpose, such as:
- Cardboard continents,
- A map of the world made of felt: cut each continent in a different colour and use Velcro straps to keep them in their place. Cut a large rectangle of blue felt to represent the ocean.
- You can also make a map of the world using modelling clay or play dough.
Montessori puzzle: the continents.
Create thematic units for different geographical areas, starting with the place where you live. You can make a list and dedicate one month (or one week) to a certain area. Some things you can do:
- Three-part cards with the shape and the names of different countries or continents,
- Flora and fauna, animals and their habitats,
- Peoples of the world: different races, cultures, regional costumes…
- Folk Music.
Other possible activities:
- Go to the library and search for books related to the country you want to study,
- Explore an atlas and talk about the cardinal points (north, south, east, west).
Learning the countries of the world with puzzles.
The passage of time can be quite a puzzling concept for little children who do not have many memories of their own past yet. In order for a child to be able to understand a history lesson, he will first have to become familiar with the existence of the past, present and future. During the preschool stage, it is enough to help children become familiar with events which are closest to them in time, starting with events which they experienced recently and that they can remember. It is virtually impossible to explain to a three-year-old what a century is, if he can’t even remember his last birthday!
Start by getting an analogue clock and a wall calendar and putting them in a visible place in your school room.
A good practice to get acquainted with the concept of the passage of time is watching the clock for one full minute: "Let's see how long a minute lasts." If you don’t have an analogue clock, you can use a kitchen timer or a stopwatch phone app.
"Let's see how long a minute lasts."
Every morning when you wake up point at the clock and say: "It’s seven o’clock in the morning". Just try to remember to mention what time it is as often as you can, especially when you start doing an activity that happens every day at the same time: lunch, dinner, going to school, getting a shower, going to bed… from time to time try to ask your child first what time he thinks it is. If he doesn’t know or makes a mistake, just show him where the clock’s arrows are pointing and say the right time: “It’s five o’clock”.
A very useful custom, which is also practiced in most nurseries, is to look at the calendar every morning and record the date, the season of the year and the weather (sunny, cloudy, rainy, etc.).
There are many ways to create a homemade calendar with your children. If you are not too crafty just use an ordinary wall calendar with enough space to write or draw something on each date. You can also get a perpetual calendar which will last you many years, such as the one in the picture.
The seasons of the year
The seasons of the year act as easily recognizable placeholders which help children to understand the passage of time and the cyclical nature of the years while the Earth rotates around the sun. Present the Solar System together with the seasons of the year. Talk with your child about events that he can remember which repeat themselves annually (especially his birthday, Christmas or other holidays, summer holidays, etc.).
- Sensory trays about each season of the year,
- Murals with dry leaves and flowers,
- Talk about clothes suitable for each season and draw them, cut them, sort them, etc.
The history of humankind
In Montessori elementary settings the subject of history—and other subjects, too—is explained in a quite particular way, through the use of stories called the five Great Lessons. The Third Great Lesson, which is known as The coming of humans, deals with ancient civilizations and how people who lived before us used to live. The Great Lessons are stories which are used as a frame for all the subjects which are discussed in a Montessori school. Their main goal is to allow children to acquire knowledge about our world starting with easy to grasp, general ideas, which become more and more specific.
Visiting a medieval castle is a practical history lesson which will delight children and adults alike. Find out about historical sites in your area and visit them together. In this picture: the medieval castle of Belmonte, Spain.
The Great Lessons are not introduced during the preschool years, but it is likely that, well before the age of six, your child will have many history-related questions to ask you. Some of the most popular ones are:
- The dinosaurs: when did they live? What kinds of dinosaurs existed, and what were their names? Why did they become extinct?
- Prehistorical times: who were the first people who lived here? Who built Stonehenge, how, why? What kind of houses and clothes did people have back then? How did they get their food?
- Ancient civilizations: depending on where you live you might be able to visit a Roman amphitheatre, a Greek temple or even the Egyptian pyramids (or watch documentaries, movies, or check out a couple of books from the library).
- The Middle Ages: knights, kings, peasants, castles… who were they? What was their role in society?
Children are curious by nature. Don’t be afraid to talk to them about history or anything else that they would like to know about. If they ask you something you don’t know the answer to, research the answers together. If your child shows interest in a certain area, try to prepare materials related to it, such as:
Some ideas of things to do:
- Create dinosaur three-part cards, and match them with toy dinosaur figures or try to find them in a dinosaur book,
- Look at books about the Middle Ages and prehistoric times, draw how they lived, cut and paste related pictures,
- Get dressed as a medieval knight or a prehistoric man/woman,
- Visit a history or prehistory museum in your city. Especially in big cities such as Berlin or London, you will be able to see wonderful ancient items which will inspire your children’s curiosity about ancient times.
- Plan a trip to a prehistoric cave, a castle or a medieval church. If you live in the USA, Canada or Australia, visit sites related to the native culture of your country and the arrival of the first settlers.