There are some parts of the Montessori classroom that seem to get all the attention: the beautiful Practical Life materials, the engaged constructions in the Sensorial area, the precise Math lessons or the carefully sequenced Language materials. But there's another area of the classroom that's often overlooked: the Cultural Materials.
The Cultural materials introduce the child to his or her place in the world, offering the child opportunities to learn about place and community, to compare our experiences here with the lives of children abroad, and to understand all the factors that contribute to those experiences: art, music, dance, fashion, food, topography, climate, and more.
One of the first materials in the Cultural sequence is the Continent Map. A large scale map, this initial puzzle map is often heavy for the smallest children to navigate, requiring great care and caution as it's moved through the classroom. At once, the children know this is a special lesson that demands their attention.
Set on a floor mat, the pieces of the Continent Map are removed individually, as the teacher introduces the name for each continent. The children can feel the shape of the continent, compare the sizes between them, and ultimately rebuild the map outside of its puzzle frame. They might place all the pieces in a mystery bag to identify while blindfolded. They might place continents on one side of the room to invite a friend to remember their names and retrieve them back to the map. Later, children might trace the continent shapes and punch them out with a pushpin, ultimately creating their own paper map to match the large puzzle map.
The color of each continent insets differs, and becomes the code for materials pertaining to that continent. In later lessons, for example, the child might be introduced to a red pouch containing pictures of children in Europe. The child can compare those pictures to pictures from the green pouch, Africa, or the brown pouch, Australia. These packets will be offered for all sorts of classifications: food, children, clothing, major landmarks, natural features, political buildings, and the like. The child comes to learn how much we have in common with each other around the world, and simultaneously comes to understand the vastness of our earth and the diversity of life it bears.
Each of the Montessori materials shares certain qualities: they are beautiful, self-correcting, didactic and concrete, offering the child experiences with the real world within the boundaries of the classroom. The Cultural materials, beginning with the Continent Map, bring the world to the children.