When Maria Montessori developed her philosophy of teaching geography, the world was in a volatile state. She lived through two world wars witnessing the destruction of many societies and cultures. For this reason, her ambition was to form ideas of compassion, tolerance, and independence in the minds of her students. By doing this she hoped to make the world a better more peaceful place. One where adults learn as children to accept others and learn to co-exist among a variety of cultures. I designed this lesson to honor those objectives.
With Montessori philosophy, educational material is always based on age. The activities in this lesson are oriented to the 3 to 6-year-olds but can be adapted to older children as well. Count on this lesson taking several days depending on how much time you decide to dedicate to it per day or week. It is full of related topics and, hopefully, your children will have many questions along the way. Take your time and enjoy the ride!
Step 1: Our place in the Universe
We begin our journey through this lesson at the beginning: the Big Bang, the birth of our universe. The universe is a big and mysterious subject for the little ones so it’s definitely a good idea to use lots of images and props to guide them. Visual learning is, in fact, a cornerstone of Montessori education. Books are the perfect material to start the lesson.
Talk about the universe and how it all began 14.5 billion years ago. Mention how galaxies were formed, including our own, the Milky Way. Then scale down to solar systems.
Each solar system has a big bright star at the heart if it, like our own sun, and those are the twinkly lights we see in the sky at night. Having this lesson at night would be a great idea, of course with clear skies, and show them the differences between the stars and the planets (the planets don’t twinkle). Also, you can point out the different constellations and make a game of trying to find them with.
Next show them the moon and what phase it’s in. If you have older children, around 6 or older, this video is very scientific and helpful in explaining the scale of our universe. It can be a bit dense, but it gives a great overview and shares an experts knowledge on the topic.
Step 2: The physical planet
As we get smaller and smaller within the vast realm of the universe we arrive at our home, the Earth. It’s about 4 billion years old, which should be shown written down with all its many zeros.
This is a list of topics you can cover:
- The difference between water and land
- How the continents move around via plate tectonics
- Weather patterns
- Currents of the ocean and their effect on weather
- Why the poles are covered in ice and how they are shrinking due to global warming
This last one is optional, should you decide to include a little conservation in the lesson. You could even throw in the ‘El niño’ effect which occurs every 7 years in the Pacific and has a great impact on the weather patterns all over the Pacific Rim.
Props and visual aids
You can, of course, find many globes on the internet, but I prefer an inflatable beach ball globe as it serves as a lovely transition from the round shape to our flat maps of the world. Another great visual aid is the 3D printed globe with the layers and its core painted in its interior.
Deflate the globe and show how difficult it is to read as you move onto a sliced map. Remark how it resembles a peeled orange and explain why maps are flat because they are easier to read this way.
Step 3: Our cultural world
At this point, it’s time to introduce the world map of the continents with the 3-part cards. Using a felt map to teach Montessori geography lessons is a wonderful alternative to the typically wooden maps most schools use as it’s lighter, easier to store and is a nice material to touch.
As we place the continents on their base we talk about each one individually. We describe the shape, the color, what neighbors they have, ask if they know any countries in them, anything to help them build association thereby increasing retention. Once you place them all nicely on their base, we bust out the 3-part continent cards with labels. They indicate both the continents and the oceans. It’s a good matching game to not only sort by color but also to match the realistic shapes of the cards to the animated felt pieces.
How cultures were formed
Then we begin to talk about culture and we create it. A small history lesson will do the trick here. According to scientists, humans first appeared 6 million years ago in Africa. Over the millennia they migrated all over the planet and settled on the different continents. For older children (6 to 12 years old) this is a good point to share the reality of race.
Genetically all people are the same despite our different appearance.
The only reason why we look different is that we all grew up in different climates and evolution helped us adapt to local conditions. This is an important time in the lives of children and we can make a big difference in raising open-minded non-prejudicial children.
To help you illustrate these differences, the next step will teach you how to use a variety of nomenclature cards depicting food, music, holidays, and houses from across the globe. These type of cards will not only show how unique these customs and cultures are but also how similar they are to our own traditions.
Step 4: Using the 3-part cards
Combining the map with all the 3-part Montessori nomenclature cards we have to offer, such as animals and monuments, expands the learning and allows for a targeted physical or cultural lesson. If you have other cards, this is a great time to include them. Here is a helpful article about how to take full advantage of the 3 part cards and the felt world map.
We primarily use the large version of the map with our boys as it has the most real estate for laying the cards out and using toy figures to complement the cards. The moment we break it out our boys go crazy! Our youngest loves lions and tigers so when we start playing he already wants to get out the animal cards before we have even matched all the continents to their bases!
But learning geography is the goal here so we make sure to focus on the labels and continent cards at the start of every session. We find it easiest to alternate continents between the two boys to avoid any altercations. They both think it’s their turn with every new continent!
The Montessori philosophy is embedded in this game in many ways. All complementary cards are nicely organized in color-coded pouches which correspond to each continent. This also makes straightening up and storing much easier once we are finished with the activity.
It’s important to have a nice basket or little box to mix the cards up in before starting with the matching game in order to minimize any loss. Each child takes a turn choosing a card and placing it on the correct continent.
Being Montessori inspired, the cards guide the child to the right continent with colored framing. If they have animal figures, they can put them on top of the cards too. If you happen to have many figures it may be easiest to stick to one continent at a time as the felt board can get a little crowded by the end of each area.
Creating world explorers
The monuments of the world cards highlight some of the most amazing, ancient and mystery-filled structures our planet has to offer. Your little ones will be occupied for eons. They’ll learn where each wonder is located, gain an understanding of the past, the evolution of ancient civilizations and develop the curiosity which leads to future globe-trotting.
This felt board has been amazing for getting our children curious
These cards are also color-coded to match the continents and fulfill the Montessori guidelines with 3-part learning. Having the play figures just brings an extra tactile element to the learning and makes it more of a matching game.
This felt board has been amazing for getting our children curious about all the beautiful things the world possesses. We hope your little ones have as much fun with this engaging educational activity as ours do!