Friday, January 04, 2013

Montessori Whole to Part: Lower Elementary Montessori Geography

NAMC montessori whole to part lower elementary geography boy with nesting dolls
Children gain a concrete understanding about whole to part using matryoshka dolls.
What is it about stacking and nesting materials that seem to draw children to them? For the very young, stacking materials offer the joy of building a tower over and then knocking it down. Over and over again they learn about cause and effect, as well as the fundamental laws of physics — what goes up, must come down! Nesting materials (graduated bowls, cups, boxes, etc.) teach spatial relationships, as well as the language of comparative adjectives (big, bigger, biggest; small, smaller, smallest) and prepositions (in, out, over, under, etc.). In addition, stacking and nesting materials help develop hand-eye coordination and the all important pincer grasp that is so necessary for writing. These materials also give children the opportunity to concretely experience the concept of a whole object and understanding the parts that are nestled within.

Not just limited to the preschool child, stacking and nesting materials help the elementary child classify and order abstract concepts by providing concrete, visual representations that they can understand easily. In a previous blog, we discussed how Russian matryoshka dolls can help upper elementary students learn about advanced biological classification. Stacking boxes can also be used at the lower elementary level to learn about the child’s place in the world.

Montessori Lower Elementary Whole to Part: Geography, Biology, and Cosmic Education

Montessori’s lower elementary curriculum focuses on the BIG cosmic questions that LE children ask: Who am I? What am I? Where did I come from? Big questions require BIG answers and Dr. Montessori believed in satisfying this natural curiosity by giving the child the history of the creation of the universe. The First Great Lesson, also known as the story of God Who Has No Hands, tells the child the story of the creation of the universe. The remaining Great Lessons take the child through the wonderful journey of exploration of the history of the earth, the coming of living things, the history of humans, and the development of math and language.

NAMC montessori whole to part lower elementary geography children and sandpaper globe
Children are an integral part of the universal whole 
Montessori sees the child as a piece of a greater whole — as a living, breathing, contributing steward of the world. Because of this, the universe is presented first, whereas in conventional education, the child learns first about themselves, the family, and their immediate neighborhood. Montessori’s focus on the bigger picture helps the child make immediate connections about the interconnectedness of life.

I recently saw stacking boxes used to concretely demonstrate Dr. Montessori’s method of delivering the whole (universe) before the parts (planet, continent, country, city, etc.). Since the universe is the foundation of life, it is the bottom-most box. The tower ends with a small figure of a person to very simply and concretely demonstrate the vastness of the universe and the child's place in it.

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 4, 2013.


  1. Thank you very much for pointing out the whole-to-part aspect of Montessori's approach, which is in line with Islamic thinking.


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