Magazine article Montessori Life

The Needs of Humans: A Beginning

Magazine article Montessori Life

The Needs of Humans: A Beginning

Article excerpt

How do we show students where they and others fit into the human family? Maria Montessori developed a structure through which we can answer that question. Starting with activities in the primary classroom, which are continued through the elementary years, we investigate what we share in common with all people.

In the Montessori environment, the sensorial exercises begin the classification of the myriad impressions the young child has been collecting since birth. This information is sorted, labeled, and refined through classroom activities. In the same way, the Needs of Humans curriculum begins by classifying the practices all humans engage in. Children can relate to eating food, wearing clothing, seeking shelter and protection, and using different forms of transportation to move from one place to another.

These everyday activities are organized under the heading The Five Physical Needs of Humans: food, clothing, transportation, shelter, and defense. Later, for older diildren, we study The Four Spiritual Needs of Humans: art, religion, self-adonunent, and communication.

In primary classes, we talk about the children's favorite foods, noting similarities and differences. Later, we draw many kinds of foods. This leads eventually to the diildren producing a book of drawings for the five different physical needs. As a group, we also make posters for each need, adding to them as we find magazine illustrations depicting people meeting any of these needs.

Offense vs. Defense

Four of the categories for the Physical Needs are simple to discuss and illustrate. The fifth, defense, is not. Generally the first things the children tend to talk about and draw are guns, knives, and bombs.

It is extremely important to discuss with elementary students the very different natures of offense and defense. I find the term "protection" is a more suitable word than "defense." "Protection" expands the category to include medicine, seat belts, sunscreen, and so on. Displaying their creativity, my elementary students develop illustrations of parents, padlocks, windshields, knee-pads, and the "stop-drop-and-roll" technique taught by a visiting firefighter. All this instead of drawings of weaponry!

Teacher-made sets of cards are available on the shelf for either primary or early elementary children. The cards illustrate how the five physical needs are met in similar or in different ways around the world. These illustrations are color-coded to match the corresponding continents, and the children consider where the pictures could be placed appropriately; many cards could fit into more than one category. The card-placement activity gives the children opportunities to exercise judgment and make choices. For this exercise I've used many pictures from catalogs and calendars published by Heifer International, a charitable organization committed to ending hunger in the world through sustainable agriculture, care of the environment, and awareness of the needs of others.

The children in early elementary and older primary children (with a little more help) proceed to learn about how children around the world live. For this study I use the book Children Just Like Me. Over a week or two I read a different 2-page story to the group about the lives of many different children. The students who wish to then choose a child from one of the stories and make a leaflet about that boy or girl. We fold a paper in half to make the booklet; on the cover the student traces the continent (or country) in which the child in the story lives. Then, after examining the picture of the child in the book, the student picks an appropriate skin color of construction paper and traces a "paper doll," using a pre-made stencil of a child's figure. After cutting out the figure, he uses construction paper to make hair and clothing, which are glued on; then the figure is pasted on an inside page. The figure can also hold a flag of her country (created with a toothpick and paper) or the flag can be drawn on the opposite page using the rectangular metal inset frame. …

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