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.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Observing in the Classroom

A four year old skips past the bells

I recently had the opportunity to sit and observe in my new classroom as it is where the summer school program is being held. I took some photos and want to share them with you, but first let me tell you how I felt that first day when I entered the room.

I came into the empty classroom slowly and quietly. I must confess it was quite an emotional moment. Perhaps I should use the word spiritual instead as it felt like I was entering a sacred space - a place where children find their school day home. The classroom has a warmth to it that embraces you as you first enter.

Here are a few photos of the classroom, children working and some materials. Just outside my classroom via a door is the school garden. When standing in the garden you can see both the masts of boats at the pier and the white cap of nearby mountains:

The classroom is composed of two large areas with the sink in-between.

A child used the scrambled egg tray to crack, beat and pour her egg onto the skillet.

The finished scrambled egg that she ate with a huge smile.

Looking out the classroom window at the garden just outside.

Each of these four spoons has a small shell on it. They are to be used with walking on the line exercises.

Everyday the children bake bread. These two loaves are just out of the oven.

More photos to come. I am suddenly quite hungry for some scrambled eggs and toasted homemade bread. It's all good actually!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

I Have Arrived!

Juneau Montessori School - Juneau, Alaska (Douglas Island)