Monday, 15 April 2013

Montessori Cultural Explorations

Cultural subjects include history, geography, art, physical science, cosmology, music and physical movement. The aim of studying culture is to allow the child to experience their place in the universe. They begin by exploring similarities between their culture and others, and then have appreciation and respect for differences. They learn how all beings are fundamentally related and discover ways to feel they are significant beings in this world.

In Singapore primary education, there is what parents term the considerable leap of academic challenges from the honey-mooning phase of lower primary education ie. Primary 1 and Primary 2... to the inevitable coming-of-age phase in Primary 3. Many parents lament that their children are either caught off-guard come CA1 or SA1 results or that they are shocked at what the just graduated from P2s hafta swallow whole at P3... especially with THAT one additional subject... yes, I am referring to Science.

Inclusive in the 5 areas of Montessori Education is the Cultural Explorations. It is precisely, because of this area that Montessorian children are often observed to also be ahead in Science, apart from the tested and proven Math and Language areas. Montessori's Cultural curriculum is in-depth and offers plenty of opportunities for extension activities where directress can bring the wide world of Science into the classroom. Montessorian children also enjoy excursions to destinations rich in nature so children can observe and apply what they have worked on in class. This complements the appreciation of nature in real life and not just from books and resources.

For the natural born scientists and the nature lovers, this is surprising, for to them... Science was something they never had to learn at all. Whether or not you want to take the chance to eventually find out if your young ones are adept at this subject, you can expose them to this subject at an early stage where they won't even know they're actually learning Science.
And no.. i'm not talking about just doing the experiments. But yes, you can do that too. Hehee.. 
1. Concrete Introduction Using models (3D)
You can introduce children to a variety of Science concepts by using 3D model animals and objects for concrete learning experiences. To name a few are those animal packs you can easily purchase from your neighbourhood stationery store at less than 5 to 10 dollars a pack depending on the size of the animals in a pack. There are a few packs mainly, farm animals, wild animals, dinosaurs, ocean creatures, creepy crawlies and the likes.
Introduce one animal/object a week/day depending on your schedule and you can see that your children will learn so many names and shape (physical characteristics) of the animals/objects you have shown to them and shared (info) about them. For items can be, things in the bathroom, kitchen utensils, at the garden (etc)... you get to decide your own theme for the month(s).
After which, you can follow up by a trip to the zoo or the bird park or the farm (etc) to reinforce the concept you have introduced. For household items, a trip to the hardware store or even big supermarkets can be a fun educational trip for them. Engage them in discovery and expand their vocabulary by asking them the physical characteristics of all the stuff they've been introduced to.
2. Abstract Follow-up (2D)
After the concrete introduction, you can follow-up the activities with worksheets or craft work. Here's when the concrete moves on with the abstract. There are loads of resources readily available on the web. If you're keen to buy, there are also gazillions of resources off the shelves out in good stores that you can purchase.
You can also get puzzles, start in small pieces a pack for the tots and slowly upgrade to more pieces as they advance in skill or age whichever comes earlier.
This is one for early learners. I got a few boxes in different themes for my girls when they were tots. Still in pristine condition till today.
As your child pieces the puzzle, just name the part. No need to go into functions of each part. Just one word. Especially for the younger learners. They will absorb the vocab real quick. By the next play time, you'd be surprised they already know the parts to the whole fish.
For the above picture, just say "head" when you place the 1st piece, say "body" when fixing the 2nd piece and "tail" when the final piece is fixed.
Flashcards can be introduced regardless if you're a flashing-cards-advocate or just using flash cards as a revision tool in support of what has been shared earlier with the 3D lessons.
3. 4D (Yes, 4D...)
4D refers to whole puzzles that are able to be stripped down to pieces part by part, to learn more about body parts or bones within an animal. Very very fun for the older or the more advanced learners.
Here's one that i have from a purchase sometime back. Extremely interesting..
4. Music/Rhymes
Yes, early learners are attracted to rhythm and rhyme and can easily grasp simple concept songs from numbers to alphabets to animals (etc). One such rhyme for learning say... about the introduction to vegetables.
"One little pea in a pea pod pressed.."
" One grew two grew and so did all the rest..."
"They grew and they grew and did not stop..."
"Until one day, the pod went pop!"
What better way too than having a nice colourful book with hand-gesture suggestions to accompany those chant-like rhymes? Here's one i managed to pick up from Borders for buds_chubs on one of our town trips.
5. Fun Extension Activities
Extension activities are what children love most. They usually never realize that they are learning for such activity extensions aim to be very fun, allows them to be very involved learners and exposes them to experimentation.
Try cooking for example. It does not have to be something you have to do over stove and fire. It can be something very simple for tots to do... like if we were to go back to the vegetable theme for the month, children can have a hand at preparing a vegetable salad. Simple preps and on your ingredient list ito get is very few. Children can start off with play-cutting with wooden knife and fruits like this ones.
Prefer plastic ones so it'd be easier to clean? No sweat! There are plenty in the market... as in, the shops lar! LOL! I have a huge ziploc bag full of them for my girls to work with when they were younger and they are all still in fabulous condition! :)
Allow children to experiment with plastic or butter knives to cut the veggies or if you're doing a dessert fruit salad, they can also chop soft fruit like bananas for instance. What nice way to include a lesson or two on kitchen safety, aye? Get the little brats to add whip cream or ice-cream to fruity desserts, sprinkle hundreds and thousands (etc). Now what better way than to have your cake and eat it? Literally..
6. Decide/Plan on a theme
Themes make early introduction to Science systematic so you can further up to make the learning fun. If you're introducing different types of flowers... buy a few roses and baby's breath and carnations, dry them up and add one or two dashes of lovely aromatherapy oil and viola, you get potpourri. A trip to the Botanical Gardens will be fruitful for this theme. Why should children only know the response to changes of a plant eg. a mimosa plant only when they are in P3... when they can jolly well touch plenty of them outside and have them tell you that it was their touch that did it? What better way to blow those dandelions and ask your child to tell you how you think more dandelions can grow?
If your child is a photography enthusiast, allow them to take snapshots of the flowers... print them out to make their own flash cards / matching cards. No better way to identify flowers than having the real picture isn't it? Because they made the cards themselves it will be all the better to remember those flower names too! Just like these ones..
I have these few on animals i think cut-out from old magazines. So don't throw those beautiful National Geographic magazines, peeps!
I used them to make matching animal cards suitable for a reading and non-reading child. How cool is that?
I made a separate set for teaching animal body parts. You can do this too for all the different types of animals and non-living things too! You can even catogorize your animals into mammal sets, amphibian sets.. (etc). The possibilities are endless!
*The animal cards are available in Montessori classrooms for children to work with.* 
7. Conclusion
Now, learning won't really be complete without a definite conclusion would it? You see... the early introduction of concepts/activities should have objectives lest they would just pass on by like regular play-time. Well, technically it IS play-time... but in this case it is learning-through-play-time. *wink* But they don't know that yet. Hah! So, you can ensure this finale by perhaps getting them to colour a couple of relevant assignments.. by re-playing or role-playing those sessions and get them to show you / tell you what they know. This way you know they know what you've been wanting them to know...  
Who said early science preps should commence only in P2... when we can actually begin from birth? Being here in this forum just means we are that kiasu, right? So why wait? If you are keen to start on early teaching concepts of practically anything, just embark on it. Get those keywords smacking on those little lips like it means something... for later on it WILL mean something anyhow. Believe me, they'll thank you for it. 
Hard to find stuff? No excuse. With the number of Daiso stores growing like mushrooms and those novelty items you can get from those ever-so-frequent pasar malams (night bazaars), one can start on anything with one's children at anytime. They come pretty cheap too! Here's a set of the most realistic looking fruits i've got from Daiso. Yes, $2 for each!
Realistic size wise too! Still in mint collection. :) As an extension to introducing the names of the fruits to the children, you can make word strip cards for them to match to the corresponding fruit as well. Such exercises also promote sight reading in children.
Honestly, the gift of love is pretty much... time.
Your time.
So, make time if you have the time. Your children will love you for it! Make learning fun....... while you still can that is! Ahahakz! LOL!

*Final note :
*Montessorian children get to enjoy many of these activities in the classroom. Science explorations in a Montessori classroom spans broadly from zoology to botany and later even get to move on to early geography as well, where children learn about landforms and even natural disasters.
Trust me to add this on, uh? Well, can't help it. Hahaa! 
*Montessorian children learn beyond pre-school and whoever said it doesn't prepare children for P1 should research more into it. There's P3/P4 Science introductions in those 'fun' lessons, yo! Geography is only taught much later too! So before i end this article, just a quick nod to all fellow Montessorians, cheers!

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