When we talk about a study of many aspects of the physical world we combine it under the general heading of Geography, which is the area of work that has a central place in the Montessori elementary class though for the children it is life and physical reality, in which every fascinating thing under the sun and beyond it appears.
Geography in the Montessori context concerns all things connected with the earth (from Greek: geo = earth, graphein = to write). Geography is a description of the earth and all that occurs physically upon it. Second plane children have a consuming interest in everything. The everything is the universe. In the Montessori elementary classroom one of the children's earliest lessons introduce to them the story of the universe! Arising from this introduction are myriad lessons and activities, many of which fall under the general heading of 'Geography'.
Major subjects included are: Astronomy, physics, chemistry, meteorology, climatology, and geology. Topics selected are chosen for their ability, in the first instance, to provide an aid to children in their quest to understand the physical world, past and present. In the second instance they are selected to enlarge upon initial interests sparked by the teacher's presentations. The children see, for example, that the earth revolves around the sun. Arising from this are such ideas as solstices and seasons, and climatic zones, which, relate to vegetation and fauna to be found in particular regions.
In the elementary, the child focuses upon the nature and reason for things: "Why are the seasons different in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres? What made the Grand Canyon?..." The focus is plainly more upon environment, and elementary children respond to this as they encounter the order and harmony of the universe, and the relationships that exist between all things.
Children entering the Montessori elementary classroom at the age of 6 have undergone great transformation. Their physical and psychological characteristics have changed. Where previously they explored their immediate environment sensorially, now they are suddenly ready to study what is not readily accessible to their senses.
The Human Tendencies continue to operate. Their focus has changed: Work (with the hands) continues, but with emphasis on finding reasons, on developing understanding. The child wants to know why, to discover relationships and functions, not just facts. Exploration of the extreme, the outstanding fascinates the child. They are drawn to the very large and the very small. Why? What for?... How is this related?... These are the types of questions that this child asks, and as hero worship features in the children’s interests we introduce to them the explorers and inventors of our history cultivating this characteristic.
In order to cater to this all-embracing thirst for the reasons of everything, to satisfy the Human Tendencies, Maria Montessori suggested that we begin with the universe, which contains the answers to all questions. The universe, Montessori tells us, gives the child a reference point, something with which any new information can be integrated, as opposed to 'bits' of disconnected knowledge:
Much of the information that we seek to give to children makes no sense unless it has a context. Cities and ports and the lives of peoples only make sense, for example, when connected to the geography and environment of a region. It is the nature of hot air to rise and carry moisture, which drops when cooled. Water, by its nature, moves sideways and downwards, forming rivers, lakes and seas which affect plants animals, cities and people. The reasons behind things are the issues that matter!
Particles 'obey' as all of the cosmos follows an orderly course, coordinated with others by the laws of nature. And as each element of the universe follows its nature and its personal laws, the balance of nature is maintained. Harmony arises through obedience of natural laws. So laws and rules are not restrictions, and the child's mind becomes aware that without these rules, there would be disorder.
These ideas are first encountered in the story of God Who Has No Hands, not as theories, facts and theologies, but in the form of a cosmic tale. The aim of the story is not to create 'understanding' in the children, but to touch their imaginations, enthusing them to their innermost core. This, and the other stories that we tell, are designed to strike the child's imagination, opening new fields for exploration. As a cause and effect and pattern is grasped by the children, their intellect takes over and the teacher helps them to locate more facts and to study the chosen subject in more depth. Once interest is sparked, facts can be given to children hungry for them.
Topics forming the body of Montessori elementary Geography include: Space, Earth and Universe; Composition of the Earth; States of Matter; Sun and Earth; Work of Air; Work of Water; Life on the Land; Interdependencies; Economic Geography.
These areas are to assist us to effectively structure the classroom environment and to better prepare lessons. For each topic we provide aids to the imagination in the form of stories, colorful, impressive charts, and a variety of experiments, many of which have been selected to provide impressions, not facts. The children are offered opportunity to reconstruct reality in their own minds! The aim of our presentations is to create an unrest in these children's minds, so that they will want to find out more.
What attracts the children first or last is not really important. What is important is diversity... As many groups of children as possible doing as many different things as possible, reflecting the diversity of the universe! Then, as a culminating presentation, the children are led to see that all are interrelated via the Chart of Interdependencies.
Geography, a living segment of Montessori's Cosmic Education plan, generates spontaneous, active, self-renewing interest! A love of learning blossoms in the children, and lifelong fascination with elements of Geography may evolve.
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