Geography: An Overview
Separate sciences do not exist as we describe them, and all sciences together tell our story as humans and inhabitants of the Earth. Geography encompasses our physical surroundings and cultural experiences encouraging children to discover their place in the Cosmos. Due to its cosmic nature, geography plays a significant role in unifying culture. As in all cultural areas of the curriculum, students experience geography concepts starting with the idea of the whole. We show that each branch of science originates from this idea of the whole and are then able to delve deeper into more specific studies.
Students in the Children’s House are in the first plane of development, as described by Maria Montessori. During this first plane, students are egocentric. At around age six the child’s focus turns outward to the world as he enters the second plane. The child leaves the Children’s House to become a part of the Elementary program which encompasses ages 6-12. Because children are now in the second plane of development, our instruction must change to reflect the child’s relationship with their environment. Characteristics of the second plane include an increased desire for socialization, enhanced imagination, a sense of justice, and an awe for greatness. By providing instruction that satisfies these tendencies, the Elementary guide is able to inspire independent exploration from the children instead of requiring or assigning it.
Traditionally, adults impart knowledge to children through words. Later adults may associate these concepts with images. For the child who is entering this superior level of abstraction, imagination is the vehicle by which these studies begin and we must provide more than just words. Instead, we must give children experiences on which they may build and realize larger concepts. This is a theme carried throughout other areas in the curriculum, but specifically regarding geography, these experiences are initially provided through experiments. At first the guide performs the experiments with a sense of mystery and wonder, such as during the first Great Lesson, The Creation of the Universe. During the next presentation of the experiment, the guide includes the nomenclature and provides instruction for the child to perform the experiment herself, including safety precautions. The third phase in this process is for the student to perform the experiment herself. The geography experiments, as well as the associated nomenclature, are divided into two levels. Level 1 is for the younger child in Lower Elementary and Level 2, being more complex and abstract, is for the older child or Upper Elementary student.
Following the experiments the guide presents the Impressionistic Charts. These charts are illustrations that typically include personifications of scientific concepts. From these charts, the child gains a visual impression of the concept and to arouse further study. These key lessons are meant to be impressions only and should therefore be concise. Discovering the details becomes the work of the child. In many cases, expecting students to complete follow-up work is appropriate. Ideally, follow-up work is inspired rather than assigned. Guides must consider the desired effect of follow-up work before providing the students with choices and observe to determine its value. When follow-up work fails to help a child understand a concept and is seen as “busy work,” it should be abandoned.
Geography includes successive periods including the study of shapes (land forms), nomenclature, phenomena, and abstract knowledge. The study of shapes is started in the primary classroom and is often carried over into the beginning of Elementary. The Elementary Geography curriculum includes the following chapters:
Creation of the Universe and Composition of the Earth
Matter and Laws
Sun and Earth
Work of Air
Work of Water
Life on Earth
Geography can be classified as Physical, Political, Functional, Cultural, and Economic. The bulk of the Elementary geography curriculum is Functional Geography which includes chapters 2-5. Political (including continent studies) and Physical Geography are primarily the work of the Children’s House, typically finished during the first year in Elementary. Cultural and Economic Geography fall under “Life on Earth” which is revisited throughout the six year program. Just as the experiments are presented in two levels, so is most of the Geography curriculum. Lower Elementary and Upper Elementary instruction has few notable differences regarding the content covered, varying primarily in the depth to which these concepts are explored and discussed. With that being said, it is fairly common for certain concepts to be reserved to one level or the other. For example, it would not be uncommon to see a greater emphasis on studies of the Earth and the Solar System in Lower Elementary with Work of Air and Water being reserved for Upper Elementary studies.
When considering the Cosmic Curriculum, the Great Lessons set the stage for all studies that follow. By providing a point of reference, guides are able to introduce any area of the curriculum through the context of the interrelatedness and harmony of the Universe. The first of these great stories, The Creation of the Universe, is the first lesson in the Elementary Geography curriculum and should be presented to all students in the Elementary program at the beginning of every year. Through this cosmic tale, geography leads directly into biology studies through the Timeline of Life. The next story, the Story of Man, is a historical one which is followed by the History of Mathematics and the History of Language. With the Great Lessons presented at the beginning of each year, the students can easily understand the connections between the subject areas which leads to a deeper appreciation of the delicate balance that is life on Earth.