Sunday, July 24, 2011

Geography In The Primary Classroom : Puzzle Maps and Flags

On Friday I sat and observed as the upstairs teacher, Andrea, (who is working in my classroom this summer) assisted two children (5 year olds) with their puzzle map of North America. I watched as the two boys carefully lifted each puzzle piece from the tray and placed them on the work rug. I listened as they questioned out loud the names of each country. Two of them were instantly named - the United States and Canada. One of the boys placed a small puzzle piece in the palm of his hand and seemed to be teetering on identifying it. Andrea looked at him and gave him a little clue, "It starts with the sound C - like Cat." The second boy blurted out, "Cuba!" He was correct. Next Andrea invited them to go to the wall poster that listed the names of countries on the left and the flags of each on the right.

The boys left the Cuba puzzle map on the work rug and went to the poster looking for that first sound "C" followed by "uba" They found the image of its flag and then turned to the shelf where the flags are displayed and chose the one that they had identified. They came to the work rug and placed it next to the puzzle piece now recognized as Cuba.

The boys continued this work for a good 40 minutes. While they continued, two other children (older 4 year olds) begun working on the continent map. After removing each continent from the frame, they were now attempting to replace the puzzle pieces correctly. I overhead snippets of their conversation regarding which piece should go where.

"I am pretty sure that Africa is found below Europe," one of the four years said to the other. "Yes," the other noted, "Africa is below Europe." The first four year old placed the continent Africa in its correct place and then quietly sat back. He seemed to be pulling various tidbits of information gathered through lessons and work with the materials together in his mind so as to make a statement, which he then did. "There are no children in our classroom from Africa," he said. The second child agreed. The next continent placed was Australia followed by Antarctica. Soon the map was completed and put away. So too were all the flags of the North America puzzle map, as well as the map itself and the work rug.

My long time friend Sarah Endsley from Lake Country Montessori School in Minnesota, which I was fortunate to work at years ago while I took my training, wrote the following regarding Geography in the Children's House (CH):

Geography at the Children's House Level

Dr. Montessori spoke of “giving the world to the child in this first plane of development.” The prepared environment, trusting adults, and the freedom to explore, give the child the world.

CH geography comes from the children understanding their world and their place in it. It comes through imaginative storytelling, accurate and descriptive language, sensorially rich experiences and beautifully made materials that allow for exploration and classifying experiences. The sphere handled by the three-year-old one discovers later to be the same shape as the globe of oceans and continents. Land and water forms can be filled with water to create a lake, an island. a peninsula, an isthmus, a strait. A ball of clay is rolled into a sphere, cut in half, and flattened into two circles that become hemispheres. Each continent on the puzzle maps is made up of parts that can be manipulated and put back together again, building a memory in the hands long before the memory in the words.

I have traveled far to find myself again in a classroom where children are discovering the world via the puzzle maps. I returned home that evening remembering that a friend of mine had visited Cuba. I wanted to call her and have her describe every detail of her journey. I wanted to mentally envision the place who's flag continues to fluttered in my own memory. On Monday, I will sit and listen again to the global citizen of the classroom. As I write this, I am excited to simply imagine where they may take me with them next. The world is at their fingertips.


Unknown said...

What amazing milestones these children are reaching at such a young age! Unfortunately there are too many people out there that probably could list all fifty states much less various countries around the world. This is why it is so important to have maps in the classroom. Thank you for sharing!

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Alycia in Va. said...

So happy for you.Looking forward to hearing about more experiences.