Montessori Culturals Enriching Education
In today’s academic culture, so much emphasis is often placed on maths and literacy, often undermining the value and learning opportunities in the cultural subjects (Social Sciences - History and Geography, Natural Science). Providing a holistic learning environment is also about tapping into the child’s interests, and a school should provide a culturally-rich learning environment for all the children to grow and express themselves. We have found that our children display interests as diverse as gardening and bird watching, to a love of animals of any kind, to dolls and cars and trains. Learning is so much more fun when one taps into these interests – all of a sudden one has the full attention of the child and with that, a sudden increase in learning potential becomes evident. This opens doors for generalising or transferring skills from one activity to another, and from one setting to another when the child is ready. In the process, so much work can be successfully reinforced and practised, and it’s fun!
Therapists have in the past begged us not to explore many themes as they are presumed to be too ‘abstract’ for some of the children - “they don’t even know they where they live let alone understanding where Africa is”. The question is, why would we offer a child fewer opportunities to understand the world around him, just because he has special needs? Does the child have more pressing needs in terms of communication – perhaps, but in order to bring the child out of his shell, what better why to do so than by bringing the knowledge of the world to him. Using the example of the continents we are able to provide such a wonderful learning experience through sub-topics like homes, reinforcing basic skills, like the child’s address or position of things in the home. The culturals allow the child to experience different types of clothing, getting dressed, an important skill for independence, is incorporated into a discussion about a continent or country. Food from different countries creates not only the exploration of new tastes, textures, and food preparation skills but all these experiences create a communication opportunity where the child can express his likes and dislikes, ask for more or indicate if he is finished. Discussions about various modes of transport give the children the chance to move their bodies, role play and create sounds to learn how to vocalise and play alongside their peers. For those more in tune with nature, a look at geographical features of different places around the world like mountains, lakes, volcanoes, forests, deserts allow the children to work on fine and gross motor skills, categorise, match, build vocabulary and work on literacy and communication skills.
Our expectation is not necessarily that they fully understand their place in the world just yet, but that each lesson is rich in language - introducing new words and sounds while reinforcing familiar ones which are used every day. Every learning area also brings in maths concepts to the fore – how many for numbers and operations, shape, space and colour, measurement can be found in food preparation, travel from point A to B, size and time lines.
Social graces are also being reinforced in all the Cultural learning areas. Our children learn to respect each other’s work and personal spaces and they learn how to care for the props and equipment used in class during various demonstrations. Lessons like not slinging the volcano across the class, for example, or being gentle with the visiting snake and not squeezing it to death, all come into play. Social norms like please and thank you, waiting for a turn, responding to a question or asking and commenting on a presentation through vocalisations, eye-pointing, symbols or signing are all reinforced during cultural sessions.
Literacy, numeracy and life skills flow so beautifully out of all the culturals and we embrace them to create new interests for our children. School would simply not be the same for our children if there weren’t interesting topics to explore. They might not be able to put into words all that we have crammed into a day, but the joy and excitement on their faces is testament to their interest and expectation that school is a fun and stimulating place to be!