by Seth D. Webb
Imagine a time when our ancestors’ senses were so finely tuned as to keep them constantly alert and watchful and curious; a time when our fossil human relatives had not the distractions or conveniences of today’s world, but lived in and for the moment. The knowledge housed in their active animal minds was not, could not, be built from experiences held in isolation. Their very survival demanded that they were constantly learning, always making connections between their natural surroundings, their companions, and the rhythms of their own bodies. For these early humans, they were both of the universe and truly in it – that is, living parts of the flowing and changing cosmos.
And then, somewhere in our recent history, these closest of ancient human ancestors developed the intellect and desire to learn more beyond what was necessary to satisfy their most immediate physical needs.
They became conscious. When a being can cogently reflect upon its own thinking, really exciting things begin to happen: questions emerge, experiments occur, and a sense of place and purpose develop. Now, some two hundred thousand years or so since our own species first appeared on the planet, we have the chance to purposefully rekindle that ancient way of interacting with the world in our schools. In how and what we teach, we can share with children their part in – and connection to -the cosmos.
Maria Montessori believed that to teach children was to share with them the fullness of the universe; that it is not solely separate chunks existing independently. Though we are most often housed in linearly designed buildings, we do not have to think, create or teach in boxes. It does not preclude us from creating deeply resonant learning experiences for our students. If anything, such containers highlight the importance of reaching way back, to a way of knowing that involves making connections, and seeing the whole from its parts. Montessori’s approach to teaching, and the integrated curriculum she promoted, is designed to allow for such interplay.
That we guide children through truly separate content is an illusion
Each strand is connected to the others.
The cultural lessons help to frame and connect the classroom community.
…as described by Math and Geometry.
…as described by Language Arts.
Children recognize the connections between subject areas as avenues are opened to them that allow for self-directed inquiry and exploration, as well as opportunities to demonstrate understanding. Knowledge gained from one set of experiences serves as an asset as the children move on to explore parallel studies. Deliberate exposure to distinguishable works, connected to greater themes, deepens the children’s integration of this holistic perspective. Juxtaposing content awakens new meanings. We can create an intentional interplay between the disciplines. We can build authentic learning environments through demonstrating the interconnectedness of it all, teachers and students alike living a thirst and quest for understanding.
…experienced as one.