Cultural knowledge gives children a sense of the greatness of the human personality.

Dr Montessori defined culture as “the sum total of man’s exploration of the natural world, what we know about our world and what we have made in our world.”

Culture embraces the whole of life. It is a study of:

  • Plant life
  • Living creatures & animal families
  • Our planetary timeline
  • Natural laws (gravity, etc)
  • Natural forms (land and water; habitats)
  • Expressions of mankind’s spirit (art, music, dance, song, belief systems)

Previously in the Casa dei Bambini’s other learning areas— Life Skills, Senses, Language and Mathematics—children have acquired the capacity of body and mind to carry, use, operate and move; to observe, distinguish, classify and arrange; to recognize relationships; and to use each of their senses. They are now ready for culture.

“As soon as the child has absorbed what he can from the sensorial materials,” writes E. M. Standing, “he finds himself, without any break, but by a natural transition, travelling joyfully along the various prepared paths to culture.” This is because, as Dr Montessori put it in The Absorbent Mind: “The senses, being explorers of the world, open the way to knowledge.” Indeed, for children the senses are a prerequisite for knowledge:

The child’s mind can acquire culture at a much earlier age than is generally supposed, but his way of taking in knowledge is by certain kinds of activity which involves movement. Only by action can the child learn at this age. —Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind

Land & Water Globe

Children are introduced to culture from the general to the specific, learning about our solar system and planet before studying their own particular country. Starting with the Land/Water Globe (which they can handle adeptly due to prior experience with both the geometric shapes and the Touch Board), they learn that:

  • Earth is where we live
  • Earth it is formed of land, sea and air (and that these represent the more general states of matter: solid, liquid and gas)
  • Some life-forms are sea-based while others live on land
  • There are land forms such as islands and peninsulas
  • The earth has an interior and it is hot, hence volcanoes

Children perform activities such as modeling lakes and islands on trays then locating similar bodies of land and water on a map.

The child has a type of mind that goes beyond the concrete. He has great power of imagination. The picturing, or conjuring up, of things not physically present depends on a special mental ability of high order… We do not see only with our eyes, and culture is not made up of what we see alone…  —Ibid

In presenting the Globe to children, Montessori saw that from the age of 3 they can not only see by intelligence the relations among things but have the higher power still of mentally imagining things not directly visible.

Continent Globe & Puzzle Maps

A second Montessori Globe shows each continent in a different colour. Children can see the great size of Asia and the locations of islands such as Japan and Britain. After hearing about places, they can locate them on the globe and develop their own ideas about them. Children have not yet seen nor experienced much of the world, but can nonetheless form ideas about it using imaginative power.

In learning about a continent, children discover how people live there —their food, language, costumes, crafts, transportation, rituals, celebrations, religion, art and music. One vital concept inspired by exploring the world’s peoples and customs is appreciation for the rich variety of the human family.

Children can now, based on their own curiosity, select activities that focus on land or on people. They have the gamut of culture laid out for exploration: biology, geography and the sciences; history, art, music and the humanities.

Towards contributing

Up to about 6 years of age, children have been adapting to the world around them; from 6 they can begin to affect it. “Children take for granted that what they see around them has always been there,” writes Paula Polk Lillard in Montessori Today. “They need help in understanding that once there was a time when even the simple enhancements of their lives—pencils or forks for example—did not exist.”

This new idea has far-reaching consequences for children. If things have not always been as they are, and people made it so, and they too are people, then they too can—and will—contribute. The inverse is also true: without cultural knowledge the child will become disenfranchised.

Dr Montessori intended culture to give children a sense of greatness of the human personality. Instilled with it, children understand that they too can contribute just as others have, and indeed that all contributions are made this way.