Updated: Aug 16
Key Areas of a Montessori Classroom (or Homeschool): Culture
There are five key areas of a Montessori classroom: Mathematics, Language, Practical Life, Sensorial and Culture. The Culture area holds a special place in my heart, and I learn so much alongside my students when working there.
What is culture?
Maria Montessori developed a thoery she called Cosmic Education. Cosmic Education is a cornerstone of the Montessori Philosophy. At its core, it tells the story of the interconnectedness of all things. Montessori believed that Cosmic Education was vital to early education because it provides children with a framework to understand their world and their place within it. Children learn to respect studies of the past, develop an understanding of ethics, and value the contributions of others. In this way, Cosmic Education teaches children to become aware of the interdependence of all things, and develop a sense of gratitude that comes from that awareness.
As everything is interconnected, Montessori puzzled over and queried why traditional education systems divide it up into so many separate subjects. A child who is working on the North Pole will explore geography, zoology, biology, history and much more. Culture, in a Montessori classroom, encompasses geography, history, zoology, biology and science. Art and music are also usually included in this part of the classroom.
Montessori classrooms have a lot of learning materials. The culture area is no exception! The materials are very concrete. They all have purposes (both direct and indirect) and what's know as a control of error. A control of error provides the child with a way of independently checking that they have done the activity correctly, without adult assistance.
When you are doing picture searches on "Montessori" online, you will often see a globe where each continent is assigned a specific colour. The colours are important, as they provide a control of error when working with it and associated materials. There's also a continent puzzle map in the same colours, so it's easy for children to compare 3 dimension (the globe) to 2 dimension (the puzzle map). Pictures and cards from the continents have a coloured frame or background that match the colours of the globe.
Some teachers and homeschoolers put together continent boxes or bags, where they collate souvenirs, postcards, small items and pictures from the particular continent / part of the world. It's important to include people, including indigenous people, in everyday clothes. Sometimes adults wants to highlight the beauty of traditional clothes and the differences in each continent, but it's important to show the students that that may not be what they usually wear. Think twice when choosing pictures for the boxes. A picture of a woman working on a field with a child (or even two children) on her back may be a beautiful and striking image photographically, but for people who have no choice but to work long hours just days after giving birth (and often have to keep their baby with them too), it's a real struggle and heavy work. Poverty and beauty cannot exist side by side. It's important not to romanticise and exoticise poverty and struggles that people have in many areas of the world.
In the 3 - 6 classroom, the students learn about land and water forms. You can buy or DIY forms where the child pours water in them to see the differences. This work is often paired with pictures of real water and land forms and/or water/land/air sorting acivities. Some use beautiful felt mats for the sorting. This book about water and land forms is also a great addition.
This part of the culture shelves containes a lot of materials and equipment to do experiments etc. In the 3 - 6 classroom, you will find a big selection of zoology and botany materials. In a home setting, you may not need a huge botany cabinet to teach the names of parts of a leaf and all the different leaf shapes. Some three part cards, and a walk in nature to collect real leaves is often preferred. It's important to consider your budget and where to invest your money. A material that I often see children drawn to that can be used in different ways are the zoology and botanic puzzles. You can find inexpensive ones that will work just fine (even if they are not the same quality as brand leader Nienhuis and other highly recommended material brands that schools use.) The children can puzzle them with, and without the frame and even with a blindfold to increase the difficulty. They can label the different parts of the animals (each puzzle piece is one part); they can trace one piece with a pencil and label it and make booklets or draw a bigger picture if they trace all the pieces.
History and Social Studies
We show the child the passing of time by using calendars, talk about the days / months / seasons and by celebrating the child birthdays. The beautiful traditional timelines you often see on Pinterest etc are not used until age 6+, as the concept is very abstract.
You do NOT need to buy all the culture materials to homeschool or to be a Montessori inspired home. Consider your budget, how long you're planning on homeschooling and how many kids you are catering for. Instead of pin maps or puzzle maps, you may just want to put labels on a regular map. You may miss some of the intentional purposes (especially the secondary purposes) built into traditional Montessori materials, and maybe the control of error but if you understand what the purpose is, you may find DIY ways around this. Some materials you may want to splurge on, as they are used for many years, and some you may want to DIY (consider the cost of time as well!) or not have at all. It's all OK!
Cowritten and edited by Mie Rusdal and Jude Saffron. This article contains affiliated links to no extra cost to you.