Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Last Year's Approach to Geography - Africa

I actually started this post to discuss my larger problems with the traditional Montessori approach to geography, and realized that I had written a full post on what we did last year before I even got to most of that, so this is part one on the geography theme.

The "continent" boxes are a quintessential Montessori work that I immediately struggled with when I started to plan our geography shelves. My brain immediately rebelled against summarizing an entire continent. I realize that the bits are intended to show diversity and be sorted (the moose goes mostly in Canada, the sombrero is for Mexico, and the hamburger is for the USA), and that more sophisticated examples can be chosen than I have listed, but the whole box system seems to be really fraught with peril for massive generalization, stereotyping, and ultimately even racism. Consider especially Africa; how many people outside Africa believe that all Africans, or at least some in all areas, dress and live like the Masai, speak Swahili, and see gorillas *and* lions regularly? I was pretty sure that giving them a box full of fun animals was only going to cement that no matter how much I said they were from different areas (and how easy is it to get animals that aren't the "classic" examples anyway?). I really want my girls to be as comfortable with African geography and a general sense that fundamentally the same people with cool cultural differences (from us and each other) live there as they likely will be with Europe, if that makes sense. My African geography education was total crap, as evidenced by the fact that (and I can't believe I'm admitting this publically) before we did this I thought Kenya was on the western coast. And I had a very good friend living there at the time.

Last year my attempt at  this was to make Africa our first continent of study and spend a very long time doing it. Realistically, unless you are going to do a doctoral dissertation on Africa you are going to be sampling as even within countries there are hundreds of ethnic groups and languages. My goal was to be obvious to the kids that we were *sampling* culturally, as my girls (well, really only one as Pre at that point was PreVerbal) learned about the true differences in the land and animals. I broke our study into regions and had a Five in a Row - style study of based on a picture book about somewhere in it:

FIAR-approach books (one week each): Bintou's Braids and I Lost My Tooth In Africa
Books on the shelf: Ikenna Goes to Nigeria, Here Comes our Bride
One Big Family: Sharing Life in an African Village, Welcome Dede!, Head, Body, Legs
Books I made a point to read through: Meet Our New Student from Mali
Non-Fiction Video: West Africa for Kids
Reading Rainbow: I Lost My Tooth in Africa
Traditional crafts: Batik (glue resist on fabric), Adinkra block printing, and Kente strip weaving from African Crafts: Fun Things to Make and Do from West Africa
Sensory bin: Savannah (wood chips, raffia, small blue play silk watering hole, Plan Toys balancing tree), pygmy hippopotamus, Colobus monkey, dwarf crocodile, duiker

FIAR-approach books (one week each):  My Father's Shop and The Day of Ahmed's Secret
Books on the shelf: The Butter Man, The Giraffe That Walked to Paris, We're Sailing Down the Nile
Traditional crafts: Rug weaving, pottery jug (make and paint)
Sensory bin: Desert (sand, small blue play silk and mini trees oasis), camel, gazelle, Fennec fox, hyena, ostrich

FIAR-approach books (one week each): The Village of Round and Square Houses
Books on the shelf: Rain School
Traditional craft: tapestry crochet
Sensory Bin: Tropical Rain Forest (green leaves, big trees made out of construction paper and paper towel tubes with "vines"), chimpanzee, gorilla, leopard, forest elephant

FIAR-approach books (one week each): Wangari's Trees of Peace and My Rows and Piles of Coins
Books on the shelf: Elizabeti's Doll, Mama Elizabeti, Sosu's Call, Mama Panya's Pancakes, Masai and I, Faraway Home
Book I made a point to read through: Meet Our New Student from Tanzania
Non-Fiction Video: East Africa for Kids
Reading Rainbow: Mufaru's Beautiful Daughters and Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain
Traditional crafts: basket weaving, Masai necklace beading
Sensory bin: Savannah (wood chips, raffia, Plan Toys balancing tree), rhino, elephant, lion, giraffe, cheetah, zebra, wild dog

FIAR-approach books (one week each): At the Crossroads and Jamela's Dress
Books on the shelf: The Gift of the Sun, A South African Night, Bongani's Day, A Child's Day in a South African City
Book I made a point to read through: Meet Our New Student from Zambia
Traditional craft: Mapula embroidery
Sensory bin: Savannah (wood chips, raffia, Plan Toys balancing tree), pangolin, bushbaby, meerkat, warthog, wildebeest, baboon, oryx, rhino, elephant

Works done throughout:
Puzzle map
Little flags to place on the puzzle (this might only have actually happened once)
Looked at pictures of landmarks, cities, and landscapes
Practiced recognizing and naming the countries
Cooked a meal out of Madhar Jaffrey's World Vegetarian or the Easy Menu Ethnic Cookbook for each region
Contacted someone we know who had lived or traveled in each region and asked questions mostly of Kinde's inspiration about what it was like there. We would have had cool trinkets from Egypt and live Skyping except my brother was evacuated...

We read the sections appropriate to our current region in:
Ashanti to Zulu 
Children Just Like Me
A Life Like Mine
African Atlas
"A Question and Answer Book" series of many countries (That format worked so well for us I read some of our other non-fiction books about the countries as though they were question and answer too. It really piqued her curiosity.)
Africa is Not a Country was always on the shelf

As a side note, I was extremely disappointed in the [Country] in Pictures: Visual Geography series. I had such high hopes from the title. They may very well be excellent for older children, but they were *very* heavy on text and actually had far fewer pictures than almost any other series, regardless of intended age. Very much a misnomer.

Overall, this was a pretty cool unit, and one that I definitely intend to repeat when Pre is ready to grasp any of it and Kinde is ready to delve deeper and retain more. At some point I may have a chance to post the details of our "FIAR" studies, but we'll see. As we worked through this, though, I realized that it still felt like the wrong way to start with geography. More on that soon...

1 comment:

  1. It looks like you are primarily studying Africa by biomes. This is more of the elementary level of Montessori study, rather than the primary one, but it is definitely one that I prefer teaching. We'll be starting a continent by continent biome study next school year.