Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Celebrating Cultural Diversity in the Montessori Classroom - Heritage Survey Activity

NAMC montessori classroom culture curriculum activities fundamental needs of humans
Once a Montessori teacher has told the stories of the Five Great Lessons in the lower and upper elementary Montessori classrooms, she will often move on to the presentation of the Common Needs of People (sometimes referred to as the Fundamental Needs of Humans). This series of lessons is meant to show students that throughout history, humans have demonstrated the same common needs:
  • need for food, shelter, and clothing
  • need to defend oneself from danger
  • need to move from place to place
  • need to receive care when ill
  • the need to communicate
  • the need to express oneself (through artistic works)
  • the need for meaning in their lives
(NAMC, Lower Elementary History Manual, page 126)

Maria Montessori believed it was important to study what humans have in common to instill in the child a greater sense of belonging to the universe. Humans all over the world share the same common needs. By examining the similarities and differences of humans around the globe, we build a sense of connection to all human beings, thus creating a deeper sense of cosmic community.

Celebrating Cultural Diversity in the Montessori Classroom - Heritage Survey Activity

The Montessori curriculum strives to create a connection between home and school environment. In an effort to make this connection, some Montessori teachers have found that creating a cultural heritage survey helps not only the children to make this connection, but also involves the parents with what is occurring in the Montessori classroom. By explaining that the Montessori curriculum looks at both the Common Needs of People as well as the differences of others, it sends the message that it is okay to be different, along with the need to respect the differences of others. Parents can assist their children in filling in the survey.

Items to Include on Your Cultural Heritage Survey
  • Child’s name
  • Child’s birthplace NAMC montessori classroom culture curriculum activities native american dancing
  • Family members (name, relationship, birthplace)
  • Languages spoken at home (primary and others)
  • Family’s cultural heritage (all applicable heritages and cultures that influence family traditions)
  • Special customs and traditions
  • Traditional cultural items, clothing, music, dance that can be shared with the classroom/school
  • Traditional foods that can be shared with the classroom/school
  • Important family celebrations or festivals
Once the information has been returned by the Montessori students, Montessori teachers often display the information using a large world map. Some opt to do this in their own Montessori classroom and others make it a school-wide presentation. Whatever your school or classroom decides, it is a wonderful visual reminder to the students and your Montessori community that we are all a celebration of cultural differences and similarities. The information can be used to involve families throughout the year as you study the different cultures around the world.

You may also want to arrange some other related cultural activities such as a potluck where each student either brings a traditional dish, or a dish their family enjoys.

NAMC’s Lower Elementary History manual contains many activities for studying the Common Needs of People, as well as the Concept of Time, Timeline of Life, Timeline of People, and Introduction to Civilizations. The NAMC Elementary History blackline masters (see sample), available on CD-ROM, provide curriculum support material for the Montessori classroom as well.
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 Wednesday, June 3, 2009.


  1. A great resource. I'm going to also parlay into teaching Venn diagrams with this lesson of Human's needs....nathan CA

  2. Hi Nathan. I think using Venn diagrams would work quite well with the lessons in Human Needs. Perhaps you could tie it in with the needs of plants and animals as well.


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