Friday, August 24, 2012

Approaches to Presenting the Montessori Culture and Science Curriculum

The NAMC tutors are frequently asked about the best way to present the Montessori culture and science curriculum, which includes history, science, geography, art, and music. For the new Montessori teacher, the abundance and variety of these lessons can seem overwhelming. While the Montessori curriculum is rich in lessons and resources, it is important to remember that the child has three years in which to learn the material.

NAMC montessori student playing with world flags presenting montessori culture and science curriculum
The spontaneous approach to presenting the Montessori culture
and science curriculum focuses on the individual child’s interests
When planning your curriculum, teachers often find it best to work backward. Look first at all the topics to be covered during the three-year program. Then, consider what you want to teach over the course of each year. Break each year down even more, into semesters, quarters, months, weeks, and days. Working from the top down allows you to see how it all fits together. Here are some excellent tips for presenting culture and science:

Approaches to Presenting the Montessori Culture and Science Curriculum

Consider the approach you are going to take in presenting the Montessori culture and science curriculum. Here are three methods of presenting the curriculum that work well in a Montessori environment:

1) Teaching each subject spontaneously throughout the year at three different levels.  

In this approach, the culture and science activities are placed on the shelves, and as the students are interested, they approach a teacher for a presentation. Better still, they find older students who have already had the presentations and learn from them. Afterward, the teacher observes that the lesson has been completed and then that knowledge has been mastered, and marks it off on the student’s NAMC Mastery Checklist. If a teacher feels that a certain work is being “over-used,” she/he may retire the work from the shelf for a while and replace it with another.

The teacher can also make suggestions to explore a different area of the curriculum if she/he finds a student is only focusing on one area. If a child begins with an advanced work, the teacher may suggest an introductory presentation or two to help the student understand the concept and work toward the more complex ideas. This method is very much in line with the “follow the child” idea. The child drives the curriculum; not the teacher. However, keep in mind, not every child is interested in every area and may need to be prompted or directed towards that specific area. In the lower elementary Montessori classroom, teachers can help direct the students’ interest with the presentations of the Five Great Lessons they offer each fall.

2) Rotating the culture and science subjects over a three-year cycle.  

This is a good method of breaking down the culture and science curriculum by subject. Rather than teach every subject every year, the teacher selects particular curriculum areas for each year. The teacher presents the activities for these subjects to all the students in the three-year age range. So, instead of presenting an activity to only first- or third-year students, the teacher invites all the students to receive the same physical geography presentation at the same time. For example in a lower elementary Montessori classroom, the teacher may offer subjects in the culture and science curriculum in this type of rotation:
  • Year one:  zoology; world history
  • Year two:  botany; cultural geography
  • Year three:  matter & astronomy; physical geography
With this approach, the teacher usually continues to present the art, music, and health sciences throughout each year. She/he would also present the Five Great Lessons in the fall of each year.

NAMC montessori teacher presenting physical geography to students presenting montessori culture and science curriculum
Rotating the culture and science curriculum over a three-year
cycle encourages multi-age presentations

3) Rotating the culture and science subjects throughout the year, with different leveled presentations.

With this method, the teacher splits the year into thirds and adjusts the culture and science curriculum accordingly. For example, a year in the lower elementary Montessori classroom may look like this:
  • Fall:        Five Great Lessons; matter & astronomy; physical geography
  • Winter:   zoology; cultural geography; world history
  • Spring:    botany; health sciences; art; music
The teacher then integrates the culture and science studies by exploring them through one particular focus, such as the continents, that can span across a three-year continuum. For instance, the presentations would focus on North and South America in Year 1; on Europe and Asia in Year 2; and Africa, Australia, and Antarctica in Year 3.

With as rich as the Montessori culture and science curriculum is, it takes time to plan the presentations. And the curriculum will likely be different for each Montessori school, classroom, and teacher. Again, the most important thing to remember is that students have three years to learn the curriculum and there is no need to feel rushed.
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, August 24, 2012.

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