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 ClassroomThe 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.
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
- 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) http://www.teachingforchange.org/?s=haiti
- 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)
- Listen and dance to the music of the French Caribbean. (All)
- Look at some artwork from Haiti and the Caribbean. Have the students paint a picture in that style. (all)
- Learn about and discuss Haitian proverbs. And write some of your own. (elementary)
- Learn about songs of the history of Haitian Resistance (upper elementary)
- Explore Haitian folktales by reading The Magic Orange Tree and Other Haitian Folk Tales by D. Wolkstein (1980). (all)
- Read stories together about Haiti:
- Lauture, Denize and Reynold Ruffins. (2000). Running the Road to ABC.
- Williams, Karen Lynn. Circles of Hope (2005).
- Youme. Selavi, That Is Life: A Haitian Story of Hope (2004).
- Temple, Frances. (1992). Taste of Salt: A Story of Modern Haiti.
- Temple, Frances. (1996) Tonight, by Sea.
- Danticat, Edwidge. (2004). Behind the Mountains.
- Cobblestone Publishing. (2000). Toussaint L'Ouverture and Haiti.
- Arthur, Charles. (2002). Haiti in Focus: A Guide to the People, Politics and Culture.
- Learn about the ceremonial traditions of vodou (voodoo) (upper elementary)
- Discuss what it means to be a “Citizen of the World”
- Discuss the “helping careers” that are involved in humanitarian efforts in Haiti right now.
- Discuss and explore possible ways children can help.
- Write a poem or a song about peace.
- Learn about Montessori schools in Haiti and “adopt” a Montessori classroom or school. http://www.examiner.com/x-12737-Chicago-Montessori-Learning-Examiner~y2010m1d13-Earthquake-victims-in-Haiti-Montessori-community-can-help
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.