Monday, April 28, 2008

Land, Water, Air Presentation & Cardinal Directions - Physical Geography and Preliminary Geology, Ecology, and Cartography

Here is the second elaboration on my Classroom Changes. (To see what my classroom was like, go to my older posts, in particular My Montessori Classroom and Materials.)

There are two steps to introduce the idea of geography, maps, and globes. The first is learning the four cardinal points: north, south, east, and west. The second is the "Land, Water, Air Presentation."

To introduce the idea of cardinal points (please note: you are introducing the idea, not necessarily the term - until your child is ready to understand a collective word, just call the cardinal points the "directions" or "four directions") you will need to set up a routine for a number of days that will expand beyond any regular "classroom hours" you may have.

Take a couple of dowels or sturdy sticks and draw/colour/print two pictures similar to these: Rising Sun
and Setting Sun

I'd recommend putting the pictures in page protectors, to keep any rain or dew from harming them for a few days.

For several mornings and evenings, you and your child get to go outside to examine the position of the sun.

On the first morning, you take the sign for sunrise with you, and place it in the direction of the sunrise. On the first evening, you take the sign for sunset with you, and place it in the direction of the sunset.

To be able to push the dowels or sticks down somewhat in the dirt, it would be better to do this on a lawn or in a garden, not on a driveway or in other compacted dirt.

On subsequent days, you will go out as you did the first day, and you will ask your child, "Is our sign for the rising sun still in the right place, or should we move it?" Unless you have significantly changed what time you go out, the sign should still be in the right place. Repeat this process in the evening with the sign for the setting sun.

After a few days, you can invite your child to establish that the sun always rises from one direction, and always sets in the opposite direction. After this has been established (remember, a child may wish to do this experiment many times more than you think is necessary in order to establish that yes, indeed the sun always comes up and goes down in the same places), then you can move on to giving names to these directions.

So, on the following day, you can begin the Three Period Lesson on cardinal points. As the sun is rising, point towards it and say, "The direction where the sun rises is called "east." That evening, point towards the sunset and say, "The direction where the sun sets is called "west."

For the next few days, both in the morning and in the evening, as well as any time you're walking outside and happen to pass your signs, ask your child, "What direction is this?" (pointing one way), and "What direction is that?" (pointing the other way).

It is important to do this even when the sun is neither rising or setting, as your child will need to learn that east is still east, even when the sun is not rising; and that west is west, even when the sun is not setting. The directions refer to where the sun has risen and where it will rise in subsequent mornings, and to where the sun has set and where it will set in subsequent evenings.

[A note to those who live in or close to the polar regions: Obviously this exercise cannot work if you are currently dealing with nearly 24 hours without sunlight or almost 24 hours with sunlight! So, if you live in Norilsk, Russia; Resolute, Nunavut, or in South George and the South Sandwich Islands try to do this exercise when you are close to 12 hours each of daylight and night. Lessons on the earth's tilt and the circumnavigation of the sun can wait for a bit!]

When your child has become able to indicate east and west without help (using the signs as a reference), you can continue on to north and south. If your child knows the difference between left and right, wonderful! If not, you will need to help him/her to direct the hand that he/she writes with to the correct direction.

Have your child stand between the two signs and reach out his arms so that the left goes toward the east and the right towards the west. Then say something like, "When you stand with your left hand pointing to the east and your right hand pointing to the west, your face is looking south." Then get your child to turn all the way around and say, "When you turn all the way around so that your right hand is pointing towards the east and your left hand is pointing towards the west, your face is looking north."

From now on, as you pass your signs, you will want to ask not only "Which way is east/west?" but also "Which way is north?" and "Which way is south?"

The second step to introducing geography, maps, and globes, is the "Land, Water, Air Presentation." For this you will need three bowls, a small pitcher of water, blue food colouring, a clump of dirt, and something that can hold air, such as a plastic bag with no holes, a balloon, or some other inflatable item.

This is my little set-up:


Essentially, you present these three items as the non-living things of which the earth is made up , and then have your child understand their locations in relations to one another.

Hold up the first bowl and ask, "What is in here?" Let your child try to explain in his/her own words. Eventually you can add, "Yes, this is land, and it is also sometimes called soil/dirt/mud/etc.," using the terms your child used. Then ask, "Where can we find land?" After your child has listed a number of places where he/she can find land, say, "You know what, all of those places are right, because land is everywhere!" If you child says something like, "but there isn't any land in the house," you respond, "Maybe not in the house, but what's under the house? Land!"

Talk about all the things that men have made that land can be found under, such as buildings, roads, concrete paths, etc. If at any point your child mentions rocks in comparison with land, explain that rocks are part of land, the hardest part! And that when the rocks get crushed up, they look just like the rest of land. When your child has established in her mind that land is everywhere, and beneath everything, then you can move on to the next bowl.

Out of your small pitcher, either get your child to pour some of the water that has been dyed blue into the bowl, or if you know this will make a big mess, then you do so. Ask, "What is in this bowl?" Let your child explain and when he is finished say something like, "Yes, this is water. It is one of the other things that earth is made out of. Where can we find water?"

Give your child time to think and talk about where he has seen water, or where he knows he can find water. Although she may say something like, "in the bathtub" or "in the sink's faucet," then ask, "But where does that water come from?" Try to guide him toward natural sources of water, like the ocean, lakes, rivers, streams, wells, etc. After you have talked about lots of places to find water, ask, "And what is underneath the water?" Your child may have realised, after the land presentation, that land would also be under the water, but if not, talk about how if you go all the way to the bottom of any body of water, even in the deepest spot, you will find land!

After your child and you have discussed water enough, lift up the next container and ask, "What is in this bowl?" You're very likely to get the answer "Nothing," or "It's empty!" Then say, "Yes, it does look empty, but that doesn't mean that there is nothing in it! There is something in it, something that you can't see! There's air!" Give your child time to ponder this then ask, "What is air?"

If you have done any anatomy/biology and your child knows what lungs do, this is an excellent time to tie those lessons in with this by pointing out that air is what we breathe, and if we didn't have air to breathe we couldn't live.

Then blow some air into whatever inflatable object you have at hand and ask, "What am I putting inside this ______ to make it get bigger?" Then turn the object towards your child and let the air out so it gently blows on your child's face, hand, arm, or another body part. Make sure the place you choose isn't one that will frighten them! Ask, "Did you feel that? What was it?" Let her try to explain and then say, "Yes, that's what air feels like when it moves. Can you think of other examples of air moving?" If your child doesn't come up with something, guide them towards such things as wind, windmills, seeing leaves flying through the air, listening to the lungs with a stethoscope, or any other example that would be relevant to your child.

Then ask, "Where is air?" As your child lists places where air is, you can eventually point out, "Air is everywhere! Almost like land. Land is underneath everything, but air is over, in, and around everything, on top of the land and on top of the water!

You may need to present this lesson several times before your child fully comprehends it, which is perfectly normal. As he understands more, you should have to say less and less until he is able to explain the lesson to you without much help or guidance!

Leave the presentation items out for your child to use or examine at will. If she shows interest in going through the lesson again, then do so, encouraging her to take over teaching what she already knows.

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