Wheaton Montessori News
The emphasis on geography in Montessori education beings in the Primary classrooms, with children as young as 2.5-years-old. Puzzle maps provide a starting-point for discussing the people that live in these far-off places. Geography folders celebrate both the similarities we have with others across the globe and the unique qualities that these cultures have.
When fine-motor skills are strong enough, students begin making their own maps. This is a huge work area in the Primary classroom. It’s a creative outlet, a handwriting lesson, a geography lesson, and more. Students make maps during their entire “career” in primary.
Land and water forms provide a joyful experience for the youngest students – pouring water in the trays is a huge treat for a 2 or 3-year-old. The exercise is a huge vocabulary builder as well: isthmus, cape, bay, peninsula, island…
Geography folders bring the cultures of faraway lands to the classroom. Students search for similarities and connections. They get excited about new traditions, foods, and activities. An appreciation for the world and what it offers begins here.
Geography is in nearly everything that students investigate in our classrooms. It just doesn’t look like the geography lessons many of us knew from our own experiences in school. In the Elementary Classroom, the study of humanity begins with the study of fundamental needs. Geography plays an essential role in the story of the “human timeline” and how these fundamental needs united us, drove us, and inspired us. Trade centers flourished to help meet food, shelter, and clothing needs. People of different cultures and regions shared ideas at these commercial hubs. Languages spread, ideas spread, and knowledge spread – across vast swaths of land.
John-Marc Bilezikian helped wrap up the parent education night by giving us a bit more background on Dr. Montessori. He discussed her emphasis on geography in her education method and gave insight as to why she thought it to be so essential to education. Dr. Montessori was developing her education method during a time when the world was filled with large-scale violence and war. She questioned how the world could have come to such a state. “She assessed the adults in her world and tried to puzzle out why people would follow these megalomaniacs into conflict. She traced it back to schools and education. In her mind, students were taught a little bit about a lot of things, but the basic function of education during her time was to learn how to take direction, be compliant, and get ready to play a part in the industrial setting.” The students who showed more wherewithal for more extensive education were thrown into competitive memorization – to spit out facts, get good grades, etc. As Dr. Bilezikian explained, “these people came into the world as largely frustrated adults, unable to think critically. Maybe this was why we (humans) were always fighting each other.”
The emphasis on geography and the study of the world came about from Dr. Montessori’s belief that if we know more about each other and have empathy and compassion, a peaceful world filled with compassionate, well-educated adults is possible.
In the Montessori Elementary, lessons focus on human needs. We’re all the same at the core. The elementary-aged students in particular are curious people. They’ll grab onto something even if their livelihoods aren’t dependent on it. These children are innately curious about the world around them. They crave information about the world outside of their own immediate surroundings.
According to Dr. Bilezikian, it’s different for the adolescent age. Exploration of culture, society, and the world is more “loaded” for them. These students are at an age where just “sorting themselves out” is important. It gets very personal. The information in this stage has to affect them or illuminate their role in the world. This is why we spend our time on the idea of “Pedagogy of Place,” a concept put forth by Dr. Montessori.
Pedagogy of Place – Who we are has a lot to do with where we are raised. For many of our students, this is DuPage county. We learn in the classroom about our immediate area- how did it come to be? What is it now? What is it going to be?
Then we visit. Locally, then further afield. We explore first-hand what our region once was, what it is now and what it’s going to be.
Is Pedagogy of Place an idea of the past? Dr. Bilezikian acknowledges that people being a function of their place may have been a stronger idea back when Dr. Montessori was developing her method. Air travel wasn’t a thing. Travel was hard. Humans tended to stay close to where they were born. This isn’t the case today; we’re a very transient society. For example: Naperville – the average length of stay is 3 years!
So we have to think about being global citizens. For adolescents, the idea of thinking globally about making changes, taking on lofty ideas, and exploring outside of what they’ve always known is an easy sell. These students are “idealistic in a huge way,” says Dr. Bilezikian.
In the Adolescent Community, part of their study of geography and the world is the study of “hot spots,” or current areas of major change and upheaval (the Middle East, for example). Because they’re so idealistic, they get anxious. But the great thing about working with adolescents is that there is always a sense of hope. There is always a sense that there will be something we can do to bring about good in the world.