Our geography curriculum includes a parallel study of both physical and cultural geography. Students learn the various features of the earth and also the cultures that have developed across different environments. Students come to understand that the needs of humans are universal – physical needs: food, shelter, clothing, defense- and spiritual needs: art, music, religion, social acceptance and communication. These needs are met differently based on the time and place that people live. Across time and place, the study of cultural geography emphasizes that human beings are more the same than they are different.
Montessori geography begins with our youngest students in the YCC classrooms. Soft globes are used, not for formal geography lessons, but for rolling, catching and even hugging. The shapes of the geographical features become familiar to the child and make studying geography later like coming back to an old friend.
Lower School students continue geography work with many different materials. A student may further his understanding of the world by matching small animals with their home continents on a large floor map. Another student will be drawn to putting a continent puzzle-map together. She can make her own map by tracing shapes, coloring them in and labeling the pieces. Because the materials involve hands-on manipulation, the impressions made are likely to stay with children for the long term.
As our students move into Lower Elementary, their learning of geography becomes more concrete and focused. Students continue to use their visual senses and motor skills with map work, but the maps become more detailed and specific. Students will begin to learn about the biomes of the world. In the second half of the year, Lower Elementary classes focus their studies on one continent. Classroom work is complemented with a week of artist-in-residency where students perform songs and dance with an artist specializing in the traditions of that particular culture. This study culminates with each student preparing an individual research project on a topic that interests him or her.
In Upper Elementary, there is a focus on building and using map skills—longitude and latitude, scale, map keys and understanding symbols. This culminates in the popular 5th-year project called “The Imaginary Island.” This project is a culmination of all aspects of the 5th-year curriculum: math, geography, culture, science, language and literature. Students create an island with a self-sustaining civilization that encompasses all the “Needs of People” they have learned through their Montessori education. The physical characteristics of the island will be drawn from their knowledge of geography and their study of world biomes in science. The maps are calculated to scale, relative to the longitude and latitude chosen and the available area. Written work about the island will reflect the geography, daily life, culture and government of the inhabitants, along with a fictional “creation myth” or legend representative of the culture.
In Middle School, geography is explored across the disciplines. Middle School students are drawn to hands-on exploration and work that takes them into the world. In sixth and seventh grade science, geography focuses on the local. A biome study connects the living landscape to organism interactions while investigating human interaction with the land. Students research the land our school is built on, identifying organisms and invasive species and interpreting the archaeology (walls, dams, mill and fence sites) that humans have left behind. During a geology unit, students look at how geologic history connects to the human history of Connecticut, from glaciers and limestone lowlands to the development of mining. In humanities class the focus becomes more global. Students draw and label historic maps for each time period they study. Recently, sixth and seventh graders studied cultural exchange and charted the movement of potatoes, corn, smallpox, malaria, sugarcane, art, music and sports from continent to continent. In an eighth grade project, students revisit the Montessori Needs of People framework to design Greek city-states that are created from the resources they have been given. The connection between the physical environment and what humans learn to do with it is always a point of discussion.