Friday, January 22, 2010

Haiti Activities and Resources: A Cultural Study in the Montessori Classroom

NAMC montessori activities and resources cultural study Haiti children with globe
Children are human beings to whom respect is due, superior to us by reason of their innocence. ~ Maria Montessori, Dr. Montessori’s Own Handbook

Natural disasters can be terrifying to people of all ages. Last week’s devastating earthquake in Haiti and the subsequent aftershocks are no exception. It seems as if the whole world is focused right now on the natural disaster and human tragedy that has befallen Haiti in recent years. It is impossible to turn on the TV, radio, or internet or pick up any form of print media without seeing pictures or hearing about the current Haitian conditions. With the latest study showing that the average American child uses electronic media almost 8 hours per day (HealthDay News, January 20, 2010), it is imperative that the adults around them are aware of and limit the amount and type of information being presented to them.

Currently there is an international outpouring of solidarity, compassion, and aid in response to the devastation in Haiti. People from around the world are reaching out to a country many may not even be able to place on a map, to people who are complete strangers. Let us take this time to explore and learn more about the country and people of Haiti through activities and resources that span the full Montessori curriculum.

Haiti Activities and Resources: A Cultural Study in the Montessori Classroom

The impact of discussions and images of disasters such as these depends on several factors. Young children may be especially affected because they do not fully comprehend the situation. Because they do not understand what an earthquake is, they may fear that this will happen to them. Or they may not realize the distance between them and Haiti and believe that this is happening much closer than it actually is. The repeated stories and horrific images from the media are also confusing to young children because it may seem that the situation is happening over and over again. If children have a personal tie to Haiti, relatives for example, the situation is even worse as they may fear for the lives of their loved ones.

It is our duty as caretakers to be aware of the developmental stages of the children in our care. It is important to acknowledge the tragedy, but just as important to protect and educate our Montessori students to the world around them. Communication is important in the Montessori environment. Allow the children to talk and ask questions. Be clear, truthful, and reassuring with your answers, using the child as a gauge as to what or how much information to impart. It is also important to be sensitive to the fact that some students may not even be aware of the current situation in Haiti and hearing about it may come as a complete surprise to them.
NAMC montessori activities and resources cultural study Haiti children making music
As Montessori parents, caregivers and educators, we are responsible for helping children develop into fully-functioning and capable adults. By helping children learn about tragedies, we are giving them the tools necessary for handling other difficult situations they will encounter throughout their lives.

You [Montessori] have very truly remarked that if we are to reach real peace in this world and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with children and if they will grow up in their natural innocence, we won't have the struggle, we won't have to pass fruitless idle resolutions, but we shall go from love to love and peace to peace, until at last all the corners of the world are covered with that peace and love for which, consciously or unconsciously, the whole world is hungering. ~ Speech at Montessori Training College, Mohandas K. Gandhi, London, October 28, 1931

Physical Geography & History
Located just west of the Dominican Republic, The Republic of Haiti makes up one third of the island of Hispaniola, and is located in the Northern Hemisphere between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. Slightly smaller than the state of Maryland, it has a tropical, semiarid climate with a mountainous terrain. It lies directly in the path of the Atlantic hurricane belt and is subject to severe storms during the months of June through October. It is the poorest country in the western hemisphere with two-thirds of the population dependent upon subsistence farming, with the chief crops being coffee, mangoes, sugarcane, rice, corn, sorghum, and wood.

Discovered by Columbus in 1492, Hispaniola was inhabited by the native Arawak Amerindians. Within 25 years, the Spanish settlers had destroyed most of the native population. By the early 17th century, France established a colony on the western third of island, which later became known as the colony of Haiti. Haiti became one of the wealthiest Caribbean colonies, relying heavily on African slaves to work the forestry and sugar-related industries. In the late 18th century, led by Toussaint L’Ouverture, Haiti’s nearly half-million slaves revolted and became the first black republic to declare its independence in 1804. Plagued by political unrest and violence, Haiti has known its share of strife. However, its people are resilient and hopeful. As the saying goes, “petit pays, grand peuple” — small country, grand people.

Classroom Lessons and Activities for the Montessori Environment
Geography & History

NAMC montessori activities and resources cultural study Haiti tectonic plate puzzle
  • Locate Haiti using the North American Puzzle map (pre-K) and Pin Maps (elementary)
  • Use a globe or an atlas to find the geographic coordinates for Haiti’s capital, Port au Prince ( Latitude: 18° 31' 0 N, Longitude: 72° 19' 0 W) (upper elementary)
  • Discuss the economic situation in Haiti (upper elementary)
  • Research Toussaint L’Ouverture (elementary)
  • Learn about Haiti’s struggle for democracy (upper elementary)
  • Talk about the Common Needs of People and discuss whether or not the people of Haiti are succeeding at having those needs met (elementary)
  • Learn more about earthquakes (elementary)
The Arts & Literature
  • Learn about the ceremonial traditions of vodou (voodoo) (upper elementary)
Peace Education
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, January 22, 2010.


  1. Thanks for this post. It is very useful. Kids in my classroom (3-6) are asking me about Haiti.

  2. Leptir, thank you for your comments. I hope that you are able to use some of these ideas in your 3-6 classroom.


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