Last month, we highlighted the Lower Elementary level's focus on human innovation and fundamental needs - one of Maria Montessori's key cultural lessons. Upper Elementary students are also studying humans' fundamental needs, with a focus on countries and immigration. But the foundation for this learning is laid at the Primary level, where the fundamental needs of humans also guides the cultural curriculum.
Maria Montessori divided people's fundamental needs into two categories: spiritual needs (art, religion, social customs, beauty) and material needs (food, shelter, clothing, communications, transportation and defense). Primary classrooms primarily focus on material needs such as food, clothing and shelter, as they offer visual references and are the most concrete concepts to understand.
Primary teachers weave in lessons on fundamental needs where they can make connections with other areas of the curriculum.
"As seasons change, we talk about how our needs are changing - we need to wear hats, gloves and boots," said Primary lead teacher Jocelyn Hall.
During science lessons about living and non-living things, students learn that humans, like plants and animals, also need clean air, food and water.
Holidays, like recent celebrations of Diwali and Dia de los Muertos, extend into lessons about social customs and spiritual needs. For instance, children discuss similarities between the way people from various cultures celebrate with food, special clothing and the arts.
"Children often recognize how many cultural celebrations share common threads, such as representations of light and beauty, along with food and dance," said Primary lead teacher Erin Wehler.
When Erin's classroom recently decorated sugar skulls for Dia de Los Muertos, students remarked on how the brightly colored sugar skulls resembled the colorful outfits they recently donned for Diwali.
Erin also recently touched on people's communication needs when she introduced a rotary dial telephone to her students. Many children didn't recognize the old phone as a telephone, but it led to a discussion about innovation and the way people create to meet changing needs.
Next week, Primary rooms 16 and 19 will visit Newlin Grist Mill, a working grist mill in Glen Mills, where students will have an opportunity to learn about changes in the way food is processed and stored, and how clothing (Newlin hosts dress in 1700s-style clothing) and transportation has changed (from horses and carriages to modern-day cars).
With so many opportunities to connect Primary lessons and experiences to conversations about human needs throughout the school year, students begin to gain a sense of what drives the human innovation and movement they will study when they reach elementary age.