Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Upper Elementary Montessori Zoology: Advanced Classification

NAMC Upper Elementary Montessori Zoology Advanced Classification teacher child nesting dolls
Even the youngest Montessori child is fascinated by nesting dolls. 
I love how some materials seem to follow the child throughout their Montessori journey. For example, a set of matryoshka, or Russian nesting dolls, can be found beginning in the Montessori infant/toddler environment all the way up through upper elementary.

Matryoshka dolls are a beautiful piece of artwork and display of craftsmanship to add to the Montessori classroom. Children of all ages are fascinated by how the tiny dolls are hidden within the largest doll. As children open and close the dolls, they are developing their fine motor skills. As they grow older, children can compare, sequence, and classify the dolls using a variety of vocabulary: tall, taller, tallest; short, shorter, shortest; small, medium, large; etc. You can also use the dolls as sensorial objects for storytelling, as well as exploring history and cultural geography.

Upper Elementary Montessori Zoology: Presenting Taxonomy with Matryoshka Dolls

NAMC Montessori Zoology Advanced Classification matryoshka nesting dolls
Matryoshka, or Nesting Dolls 
In the upper elementary environment, the matryoshka dolls take on a more abstract representation as they introduce the concept of advanced zoological classification. In the Montessori early childhood environment, children are introduced to the families of the animal kingdom and are able to identify and name the external parts of animals. In the lower elementary program, Montessori students are introduced to the first classification of animals, distinguishing between insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. In the upper elementary Montessori classroom, students build on this knowledge even further as they learn the science of taxonomy. Following is an example of how you can present taxonomy using matryoshka dolls.

NAMC Montessori Zoology Advanced Classification matryoshka nesting dolls

Using a set of ten nesting dolls, place the complete nested set in on a mat in front of the students. Begin your story by telling the students that this largest doll represents the entire Kingdom Animalia. Using the class pet, tell the students that as you work through the kingdom, you will meet all the groups the pet belongs to.

Remove the next doll and explain that this doll represents the Division Chordata – it has a notochord. The next doll represents the Phylum Vertebrata, where the notochord turns into bone. Continue removing the dolls and labeling them until you get to the name of the class pet. This is the taxonomy of Herbert the Guinea Pig:
  • Kingdom: Animalia (Multicellular, eukaryotic, lack cell walls, motile at some stage.)
  • Division: Chordata (Notochord, dorsal nerve chord, postanal tail some point during development.)
  • Phylum: Vertebrata (Notochord turns into bone as adults.)
  • Class: Mammalia (Hairy bodies, suckle their young.)
  • Order: Rodentia (Gnawing incisor teeth-grow continuously.)
  • Family: Caviidae (Tailless South American rodent, four digits on front feet and three digits on hind feet.)
  • Genus: Cavia (Latin, probably from the Portuguese for rat.)
  • Species: Cavia porcellus (Porcellus from the Latin porcus, meaning hog or swine.)
  • Breed: short-haired
  • Name: Herbert

When the presentation is complete, return the matryoshka dolls to the zoology shelves along with the classification labels. Children can then repeat the activity independently by researching an animal of their choice, laying out the classification with the dolls and labels, and copying the information in their science journals.
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, January 2, 2013.


  1. This is such a great idea! I wasn't able to find a set of 10 nesting dolls, so I used this set of boxes from The Container Store:

    It's a set of 12, so you can remove some if you need to. Inside each box I glued a label for each of the taxonomy levels. In the smallest box I put a picture or miniature of the animal it was for. I did the same thing for the plant kingdom taxonomy.


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