This article originally appeared in the New Kingsleyan, Spring 2018 issue. Written by Lower Elementary Teacher Caroline Locke.
“Our work is not to teach, but to help the absorbent mind in its work of development. How marvelous it would be if by our help, if by an intelligent treatment of the child, if by understanding the needs of his physical life and by feeding his intellect, we could prolong the period of functioning of the absorbent mind!” –Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind
The Cultural Curriculum
As you enter any Kingsley classroom, you will likely experience the hum of a typical Montessori environment: students working independently and with their peers, teachers giving lessons to individuals and small groups, students moving freely through the space as they select work from the shelves. Upon looking more closely at the work the students are doing, you will notice not only that they are using different materials and completing separate works from one another, but also that they are practicing a variety of skills from different subject areas at the same time. One student might be counting beads for a math work, as the student next to him/her lays out a puzzle map of Africa, and another conducts an experiment about melting ice. You are witnessing the integration of the Cultural curriculum inside the classroom.
The Montessori methodology is divided into three core subject areas: Language, Math, and Cultural. The Cultural curriculum refers to an integrated study that includes History, Biology, Geography, and Physical Science, as well as the Arts. While Language and Math are major and essential components of the Montessori classroom, many traditional classrooms focus solely on Language and Math during the early years of a student’s education. In Montessori classrooms, Cultural lessons remain an equally important and vital part of the student’s day, throughout the age levels. Incorporating Cultural lessons into a student’s educational experience enables them to enrich their understanding of the world and their place in it.
Giving students the Cultural lessons and skills needed to make discoveries about our world is responsive to their developmental curiosity and aided by their absorbent minds. By introducing lessons about the intricacies of our world early in their education, Kingsley students are exposed to concepts like political geography, Earth science, and engineering, and are able to speak to these concepts at a young age. Students also begin to realize, at a young age, how interconnected these subjects are. In a Montessori classroom, students experience new ideas through hands-on learning and by using Montessori materials. These materials are designed for each developmental level and become more complex as the grades progress, so that a student revisits a concept many times, but through materials and lessons most appropriate to their current cognitive ability. This process, known as scaffolding, is a form of social learning where students are provided with the necessary support and guidance to progress from one level to the next.
Culture Across the Classes
Kingsley students have the privilege of exploring the Cultural subjects not only in the classroom, but also in their Co-Curricular classes. Through the Cultural curriculum, a student is encouraged to make connections between lessons and across subjects. For instance, a student might learn about the parts of an insect in their classroom’s Biology lesson, observe different types of insects in the science lab, and practice scientific illustrations of different insect species in their Visual Arts class. This intersectional, "big picture" thinking is a hallmark of Montessori learning. Teachers collaborate in planning units of study to ensure that students have the opportunity to explore their Cultural lessons in a variety of environments.