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 activities are 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. It’s full of political and cultural topics and your children will have many questions along the way. So take your time and enjoy the ride!

 

How our materials can help

You’ll see in the steps below suggestions about how to structure this geography lesson, starting with the universe itself and finishing with our little home, the planet Earth. Along the way our felt boards will assist you in illustrating the details and magnitude of all this information.

Our felt boards and 3-part cards were specially designed to not only teach physical and cultural geography but also to inspire kids to learn more about these wonderful places.

Using felt boards is a very sensorial method of teaching, allowing kids to convert abstract ideas to concrete concepts. They’re also a wonderful alternative to the typically wooden maps most schools use as they’re lighter, easier to store and smooth to the touch. 

The felt is smooth and velvety allowing for quiet and focused play

If you have never worked with 3-part Montessori cards before, here is an article that explains how to use them.

You can find the 3-part cards and felt boards for these activities in our shop!

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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. 

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 of 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.

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.

 

 

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 environmentalism 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. We refer to this as the cultural exercise because the names of each continent have been chosen by governments around the world. Politics is considered a cultural aspect of geography.

 

I like to begin with the 3-part cards because you introduce the names, colors and shapes of the continents first, reinforcing all along the way. 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.

Start with laying the control cards (with the picture and name) of two continents on the floor and use language similar to this:

“This is Europe. Can you say ‘Europe’?”

“Europe”

Then place the second continent.

“This is Asia. Can you say ‘Asia’?”

“Asia”

Then review the two.

“Which one is this?” (Pointing to Europe)

“Europe”

 “Which one is this?” (Pointing to Asia)

“Asia”

Then do two more continents with the same introductions and review, finishing with the last three together. If your kids can read, have them read out all the names to reinforce the exercise after laying them out. Randomly point at a card and ask:

“What’s this one?”

Repeat this until they can answer correctly with every card. 

Now mix up all the object cards and move onto object/control card matching, making sure they can say the name of each continent again. 

Finish up by matching the mixed up label cards. Again, if they can read have them match the labels to the other two cards. If not, have them match the labels using the letters that look similar to the control card.

Now that they have mastered the 3-part cards it’s time to use the felt board. They should pick up each piece and say its name before placing it on the base. Talk about each continent individually. We describe the shape, the color, what neighbors they have, if they know any countries in them have them list some, anything to help them build association to the felt pieces. 

Once you have gone over all the continents you can repeat the exercise with the 3-part cards but in a different order as you did before. And don’t forget to do the oceans too!

Of course every kid learns at a different pace so, if yours gets a bit antsy, they can start with just matching the control cards to the felt pieces after they have been placed on their base. Then your lesson can get increasingly difficult the more they get used to it.

How cultures were formed

It’s time to talk about culture and how we created 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 discuss the topic 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.

The next step will show you how to use a variety of nomenclature cards, like food, music, holidays, and houses from across the globe to help you illustrate these differences. If you have them, these types of cards 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.

Montessori methodology

The Montessori philosophy is embedded in this game in many ways. All complementary cards are color-coded  and have pouches that correspond to each continent. This also makes straightening up and storing much easier once we are finished with the activity.

Using animal figures of the jungle or rainforest can help increase their recognition of the animals with higher retention when used in conjunction 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.

Books

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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

Conclusion

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!

 

 

 

177 thoughts on “Montessori Geography: 4 Steps to teaching kids about our world

  1. Lori Kees says:

    Our 3.5 year old is so interested in maps, globes, space and her place in it. Thank you for the information to help me make sense of it all! Love the felt map – she loves interactive learning tools!

  2. Laura says:

    My daughter is just 2 now, but looking forward to teaching her about the earth, moon, geography, people, and cultures now. Hoping I’ll be able to utilize many of your products!

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