One of my favorite aspects of the Montessori curriculum is the integration of peace education and tolerance. I have noticed this is often a daily work in my Montessori classroom. Helping the students embrace each other's differences, however minor they may be is a vital role for the educator. Sometimes a special occasion, historical or cultural celebration, or holiday can be a useful tool to assist in building these skills.
African American History Month (also known as Black History Month) provides a unique opportunity to integrate a number of disciplines across the Montessori curriculum, such as History, Geography (physical and cultural), Language Arts, and Peace, reinforcing Dr. Montessori’s philosophy relating to Cosmic Education.
Celebrated in February in the USA and Canada, and October in Britain, African American History Month is an opportunity to recognize the accomplishments and contributions of African Americans and those of African descent. This month of reverence and acknowledgement is the perfect opportunity to honor history and cultural diversity with students.
Black History Month: Honoring Diversity in the Montessori Classroom
HistoryFirst named Negro History week, this event was organized in 1926 by Harvard-trained historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson to raise awareness of African Americans’ important contributions to society. The week was selected to coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass (the first African American nominee for Vice President, abolitionist and author) and Abraham Lincoln (the American president who declared the freedom of slaves in the Emancipation Proclamation of 1862-3). In 1976, in conjunction with the 200th birthday of the US, the week was expanded to become Black History Month.
Montessori Activities about DiversityThis month is a wonderful time to teach tolerance, respect and practice acceptance in the Montessori school. There are some wonderful ideas for increasing multicultural awareness at EdChange Multicultural Pavilion. My favorite is the “Who I Am” poem. Students write poems and the only requirement is that each line must begin with “I am…” When students share their poems, they are able to embrace each other’s differences and find new connections and similarities among themselves.
Montessori teachers can help students to visualize diversity by giving each student about half a cup of colored sand. Try to give each student a different color. Ask students to take turns layering their sand in a large jar. When everyone has added their sand, discuss the different layers and how they could represent different groups of people based on ethnicity, gender, beliefs, etc. Ask what might happen if you shake the jar. After shaking the jar, have each student look closely. Students will notice that the sand is no longer layered by color, but each grain of sand has still retained its individual “identity”. This activity is a great way to jumpstart discussion. Montessori students will come up with lots of their own ideas for doing this activity with other materials.
Montessori Classroom Research ActivitiesFestivals, parades, special church services and other events honor the achievements of African Americans during the month of February. In the Montessori classroom, students and teachers can read books about famous African Americans, abolitionists, the Civil War, the Civil Rights Movement, and so on. These books can stand alone, foster discussions or be adapted to dramatic performances. Students may want to read books in small groups and share with the class what they have read. A student may be inspired to make a civil rights timeline or research a historical figure.
Reading MaterialThe following books are suggested for reading to a group in the Montessori classroom and/or using as a discussion starter for older students:
- John Henry, by Julius Lester
- Under the Quilt of Night, by Deborah Hopkinson
- Through My Eyes, by Ruby Bridges
- White Socks Only, by Evelyn Coleman
- Rosa, by Nikki Giovanni
- The Sneetches, by Dr. Seuss
The following list is just a small sample of African Americans and organizations that Montessori elementary students may want to research and write about:
- Harriet Tubman
- Phillis Wheatley
- Frederick Douglass
- The Little Rock Nine
- Martin Luther King, Jr.
- NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People)
- Colin Powell
- Barack Obama
- Maya Angelou
- Rosa Parks
- Malcolm X
- Bill Cosby
- Wilma Rudolph
- Billie Holiday
- Mae Jemison
- Toni Morrison
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Tuesday, February 17, 2009.