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The Kingsley Times

Cultural Learning in Elementary

Oct 3, 2018 8:59:07 AM / by Patrick Davis

This article originally appeared in Kingsley's Spring 2018 issue of The New Kingsleyan. Written by Kingsley Lower Elementary Teacher Caroline Locke and Upper Elementary Teacher Patrick Davis.

Kingsley's Cultural Curriculum

As anyone who knows an elementary student can attest, two of the most frequent questions that they ask are: why and how? “Why do the days get shorter in the fall?” “Why are whales mammals and not fish?” “Why are there so many different countries in the world?” “How big is the sun?”

The move from Preschool to Elementary indicates a remarkable shift in a student’s perspective of the world. During the first six years of life, a child is only aware of oneself and one’s immediate environment. As children enter the second plane of development and Elementary school, they begin to connect more meaningfully to society and expand their consciousness of the world beyond them.

Lower Elementary Cultural Learning

Elementary students possess an inherent curiosity and imagination about the world and their place in it, and so the Elementary Cultural curriculum is designed to build off that natural wonder and excitement about the universe. Kingsley’s Lower Elementary Cultural curriculum invites students to ask why and how, and to discover the inner workings of the universe for themselves.

Culture as the Unifying Elementthe earth

Students are first introduced to a new Cultural concept through lessons told as stories; impressionistic lessons designed to spark the student’s imagination and provide a concrete representation of the in-depth lessons to follow. This method connects with the student’s sense of wonder and attraction to narration, and the students begin to develop questions and ideas that draw them into the lesson. Teachers then refer back to those introductions as the unit of study continues.

For example, when introducing First Grade students to various land and water forms, instead of merely giving them a textbook filled with definitions, the teacher first tells a dramatic tale of how in the early days of the Earth there were no lakes or rivers until it rained for years. The water then filled in the dips and bumps of the land. While explaining this, the teacher sprinkles water slowly like rain onto a bumpy “landscape” of clay until the holes and cracks fill with little pools of water. The difference between land and water forms literally materialize in front of the students’ eyes, and they recall that visualization later during the more technical lessons on specific land and water forms.

The Great Lessons

The interconnectivity in the Lower Elementary Cultural curriculum illustrates one of the most exciting elements of the Montessori method. In fact, the Cultural curriculum is the unifying element of the Screen Shot 2018-10-02 at 10.26.07 AMMontessori education in Lower Elementary, which is introduced through the five Great Lessons. These are presented to the students at the beginning of every year and provide the foundation for all other lessons taught during the Elementary period.

The Great Lessons are the Creation of the Universe, which tells the story of how our universe and planet came to be; the Coming of Life, which tells how living things evolved; the Coming of Humans, which explains how human beings possess gifts that set them apart from other animals; Communication in Signs, which tells how humans developed written language; and the Story of Numbers, which presents how humans invented math. These lessons, while presented simply and impressionistically enough for young students to grasp, are incredibly powerful. They connect with the student’s burgeoning curiosity about these topics and plant questions and ideas that will drive their studies throughout Elementary.

Upper Elementary Cultural Learning

In Upper Elementary, the focus of our Cultural curriculum is promoting the idea that students are members of a global community. The purpose of our lessons is to provide perspective that within our classroom and beyond the walls of Kingsley, there is a wide array of cultures that make up our world. As global citizens, we expect that our students will graduate from Kingsley with a mindset that allows them to see the world through multiple lenses and to be open to ideas different than their own. By the end of their Sixth Grade year, Kingsley students will have been exposed to the world from the perspective of a global citizen.

A Global Perspective

Through the study of local, national, and global geography, students seek to find connections between physical landmarks and resources available, and the cultural characteristics of the people living in that particular region. The Cultural themes within Upper Elementary vary greatly, from the study of early humans to that of our country’s electoral process, and students dive into these themes through self-directed inquiry, as well as through exposure to new concepts by their teachers.Montessori Model United Nations

In the spring, students in Upper Elementary continue to work on understanding how humans have evolved and migrated across the globe over thousands of years. Through this exploration, students seek to answer the question of where we as a species came from and how we have evolved and adapted to our environment. Creating and growing a civilization will be a focus, as students will look at components of how early humans worked as an organized unit to survive and thrive.

Culture throughout History

Beyond the study of early humans, students connect a mathematical component to their cultural work. A study of scale and proportion aims to give students a perspective on how recently modern humans evolved over the course of hominid history. Piecing together broken pots helps students gain a sense of how an archaeologist solves ancient artifact puzzles.

Students also participate in more local, civically-minded projects. During election cycles, students create pamphlets to hand out to the citizens of Boston explaining the importance of voting in our local, state, and national elections. Opportunities like these provide students a firm connection between the work they are doing in school and their local environment.

From evolution to mathematical components to voting, the Cultural studies in Upper Elementary aim to turn students into researchers; eager to ask and seek answers to questions about global topics.


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Topics: montessori, foundational decade, elementary, critical thinking, kingsley, Kingsley Montessori School, great lessons, cultural learning

Patrick Davis

Written by Patrick Davis

Patrick Davis an Upper Elementary Co-Teacher at Kingsley. He has been with the school since 2013.

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