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 geographic topics and, hopefully, your children will have many questions along the way. Take your time and enjoy the ride!
Before we get started on the steps of this lesson I find it a great warm-up exercise to assemble a good set of books to assist us along the way. The set of books here will provide some great visual guides and handy tidbits of information on many of the topics we will cover.
[Disclaimer: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases at no cost to you from the affiliate links below]
This is a great first space book for the little ones. It is chock full of vibrant photos and fun facts about our solar system and other astronomical bodies. It is intended to be used in step 1 of the lesson guide.
For introducing the physical planet a book on land and water forms is essential. Our planet is covered by water and learning the differences between the various forms of land and water is a great way to start this step. It should be used in step 2.
In continuing with the physical geography topic, this book on the weather is great for young learners. Not only does it explain the different weather patterns but also the effect they have on the land and animals. It’s another resource for step 2.
For a political and cultural reference to this lesson, this atlas for kids is ideal. It covers many topics on geography such as places, people and trends developing around the world.
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. Montessori 3-part cards are an excellent learning material for delving into this topic.
This video has a great explanation of the immensity of our universe in easy to understand kids language:
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 should 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 because it serves as a lovely transition from the round shape to our flat maps of the world.
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.
Another great visual aid is the sandpaper globe for a more sensorial experience. It helps very much in distinguishing the land (sandpaper) from the water (smooth).
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 political 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 how 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, landmarks and natural wonders 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 color-coding. But using animal figures of the jungle or rainforest can help increase their recognition of the animals with higher retention when used with the cards. 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 landmarks 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.
These cards are also color-coded to match the continents and fulfill the Montessori guidelines with 3-part learning. Having the Safari Toob 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 these fun and engaging geography activities as ours have!