Peace Education: The Cultural Materials
The peacefulness of Montessori classrooms is promoted through the design of those classrooms, the nature of the materials to evoke purposeful work, the ground rules within which all children's efforts influence each other's experience, and the specific Grace and Courtesy lessons presented to teach children social skills. But there are also materials in the classroom which help to connect the peaceful environments within each school to the global community beyond the classroom walls. These are the Cultural Materials, beautiful, simple materials that introduce the child to the rest of the world.
The initial Cultural Materials help the child to understand his or her place geographically, from the conditions of land and water on the earth's surface to the names and shapes of the continents, to the individual countries within the continent on which the child lives. In Early Childhood classrooms, these materials are expanded upon through lessons that help the child to classify, compare and contrast societies around the world. Simple packets of pictures are color-coded by continent to illustrate how children look around the world, major landforms of different areas of the world, architecture, alphabets, foods and other cultural distinctions. By exploring these packets, young children appreciate both the wide diversity across the globe and how much we have in common.
In Elementary classrooms, these early lessons are expanded to include more precise content in zoology, botany, geography, astronomy, oceanography and the like. Children learn about the life cycles of different living creatures and compare them to the life cycles of humans. They investigate the ranks of kingdoms, phylum, class, order, family, genus and species as they expand their understanding of the interdependence of life on the planet.
Finally, older Montessori children are offered the Five Great Lessons, a series of narrative-based science lessons which introduce the Beginning of the Universe and Earth, the Appearance of Life on Earth, the Appearance of Humans, the Development of Writing and the Development of Numbers. While these lessons offer enchanting stories to learners to teach the content of biological and social evolution, they share a common emphasis on the role of humans as stewards of the Earth. By offering children a distinct identity as caretakers of the earth and its environment, the Five Great Lessons encourage children to apply their agency beyond their classroom, beyond the political boundaries of their towns or states or countries, to see themselves as "children of the world."
Montessori wrote, “We shall walk together on this path of life, for all things are part of the universe and are connected with each other to form one whole unity.” The Cultural Materials demonstrate for children that shared path, welcoming them to explore it and offering them the tools to strengthen their connection to each other, within their classrooms and beyond.