Dr. Maria Montessori and her work were both greatly impacted by the World Wars. In 1939 Dr. Montessori herself was barred from returning to Europe from India when World War II began, and she remained there for the duration of the war. The devastation of both wars affected her greatly and she saw education as the answer to preventing such hostility between people. She believed children must learn about the world–both its physical and political landscape– in order for peace to be a reality in their lifetimes. This took shape as the fifth subject of the Montessori curriculum: Cultural Studies. Today at House on the Hill our children learn from Dr. Montessori’s curriculum as well as from one another. We are a diverse community where both teachers and students are engaged in daily cultural exchange, working towards a peaceful future.
The Culture Curriculum
The cultural curriculum includes both political and physical geography. With interactive land and water form trays children learn the names and shapes of archipelagos, straights, peninsulas, isthmuses, and more. There are maps and globes that show physical land features as well as political demarcations. Children learn where in the world different countries are, flags of different nations, and even which animals are found in that part of the world.
The cultural materials are always available to children to explore, and they are often a mere starting point for discussion with children about life in different parts of the world. Different land features impact people’s lives, for instance living on an island is different from living in the middle of a continent! Climate is also a part of the conversation and we talk about how life is affected in colder, wetter, drier, or hotter parts of the Earth.
The Next Generation
As Early Childhood educators, we are often asked about why we have chosen this profession. For most of us, it is because we understand our children to be the future, and we want them to have and to build the best future possible. As Dr. Montessori said, “The child is both a hope and a promise for mankind” (Education and Peace). Educating the future is no small task! In addition to wanting our children to understand the world around them, we must also teach them to be valuable participants in it.
Various aspects of Montessori education combine to teach skills that go beyond academics. Mixed-age, vertical learning teaches leadership and patience. Having just one of each material in the classroom teaches sharing and kindness. Individual pacing and instruction allow children to grow their curiosity and love learning. The care we expect for our classroom environment grows to be a care for the Earth’s environment. These are only the tip of the iceberg; every day our work is to help children grow into kind, responsible, and curious members of the world.
Dr. Montessori may never have imagined classrooms as diverse as ours when she first began her schools in Italy. Across our three campuses, we have children representing dozens of nationalities, languages and cultures. Our teachers and staff also hail from places within and beyond Singapore! We take special care to incorporate cultural activities throughout the year.
Our Mandarin Lao Shi incorporate their various cultures into their teachings, giving our children first hand experience of not only the language but the myriad of traditions from China. For our Lunar New Year celebrations, they lead children in calligraphy, food preparation, and song and dance!
Learning about Deepavali/Diwali in class
Each year we celebrate different holidays from various traditions. For example, we’ve had Easter, Christmas, Deepavali and Halloween over the years. We read stories, play games, and do crafts that help children understand the festival and their friends who celebrate it.
Dr. Montessori said, “Education is the best weapon for peace.” (Dr. Montessori, 1937 lecture in Copenhagen). At House on the Hill we are working each day to impart values and critical thinking skills to our children that will help them be socially conscious citizens who make Dr. Montessori’s dream of peace a reality.