Friday, September 25, 2009

New Cultural Units and Themes for Your Montessori Classroom: How to Make it Fun!

Culture and education have no bounds or limits; now man is in a phase in which he must decide for himself how far he can proceed in the culture that belongs to the whole of humanity. - Maria Montessori, Four Planes of Education. AMI, 1971 (Edinburgh and London lectures): p. 11

NAMC montessori curriculum cultural units themes tips how to make it fun students with globe
Setting up a new Montessori elementary classroom for the new school year? Doing a different cultural theme than you have in the past? Maybe your school has added a new classroom or age grouping? I’ve known Montessori classrooms that rotated three cultural themes over the three-year cycle (for example, Greek and Roman Civilizations, Middle Ages, and Renaissance). I have also heard of classrooms that studied a different continent every year, chosen by student votes.

Montessori students and teachers both will enjoy and benefit from a cultural unit that is integrated into as many curricular areas as possible. At the Montessori Preschool/Kindergarten level, geographical and historical study of continents and oceans will lay the foundation toward more in-depth elementary cultural themes.

At the Montessori elementary level, the best cultural units also make global connections by relating all aspects of the culture being studied, including animal and plant life, language, food, people and customs. Of course, don’t forget the cultural aspects of art, music, dance, legends, folktales, games, festivals, traditions, and religions! The year we studied Ancient Greece and Rome, our class play was based on the Greek tale of “Jason and the Golden Fleece.” This example of a cultural theme for the classroom will help you plan a well connected, fun year of lessons across all the Montessori curriculum!

New Cultural Units and Themes for Your Montessori Classroom: How to Make it Fun!

NAMC montessori curriculum cultural units themes tips how to make it fun coliseum
When planning the year-long study of Greek and Roman civilizations mentioned above, my co-teacher and I began with ample research. We searched online for teacher resources and gathered books that would be helpful for reading aloud and student research (at the top of our list: D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths). Our search began locally with historical museums, art galleries, and other non-profit organizations. Luckily, Nashville has its own Parthenon and we were sure to plan a field trip and tour. We also “put the word out” about our plans by telling the director of our school, our Arts coordinator, fellow teachers, and parents who would be visiting Greece during the summer. Before we knew it, we had books, art, and artifacts for our classroom. We were also fortunate enough to have volunteers for cooking lessons and field trips. One field trip was to see a play of Greek myths.

One of the simplest curricular areas to integrate is practical life. As a class, determine what everyday life was like and what special tools and utensils were used. This is easy and fun to incorporate in the Montessori classroom. Your students will have plenty of ideas on how to do this. The year my students studied American pioneers, we washed our cloth napkins by hand, made applesauce with some very willing grandparents, and had a “One Room Schoolhouse Day” complete with individual blackboards and lunch pails. The smell and taste of spices, special musical instruments, the textures of fabrics can all be used for sensorial studies.

To integrate your cultural study with your mathematical studies, evaluate the number system of the time or place you are studying. Is the number system Arabic, Hindu, Chinese or Roman? How do they write numbers in that culture? Our study of Ancient Greece and Rome led to lessons and works using Roman numerals. We even began writing the date in Roman numerals. We also looked at the mathematical contributions made by Greeks and Romans. While studying American pioneers, the individual blackboards from “One Room Schoolhouse Day” made their way into regular use for math work.

For language integration, use reading time to read books aloud on the cultural unit. The year we studied Ancient Greece and Rome, we ended every day with a reading from D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths, and when we studied American pioneers, we read from Little House on the Prairie and other Laura Ingalls Wilder books. Explore the alphabet and vocabulary, and stories and songs from that time.

Working with your students’ sense of wonder can be a powerful and magical activity. Find something connected to your unit that will do this. For instance, when studying American pioneers, my students popped popcorn, grew heirloom vegetables, and watched bread dough rise. Also, seeing and touching artifacts from another time or place can be very powerful for a child.

Remember to include your Montessori students in the planning and above all, have fun!

Resources:
As much as possible, NAMC’s web blog reflects the Montessori curriculum as provided in its teacher training programs. We realize and respect that Montessori schools are unique and may vary their schedules and offerings in accordance with the needs of their individual communities. We hope that our readers will find our articles useful and inspiring as a contribution to the global Montessori community.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Friday, September 25, 2009.

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