Presenting Native American Heritage Month in the Montessori Environment

NAMC Presenting Native American Heritage Month in the Montessori Environment totem.

When I started teaching in the Montessori upper elementary environment, I found myself teaching the American pre-history and the Paleo-Indian cultures. Beginning with Bering Land Bridge migration around 9500 BC, we studied Clovis and Folsom cultures and worked our way through to the Plains Woodland and Plains Village cultures, spanning a period of time of about 10,000 years.

It was fascinating for my students to learn that there was a rich pre-historical American culture. Most had never thought to ask where the modern American Indians come from. Of course, having this new information led to more questions, and students were soon researching the various cultures of the American Indian.

Along the way, I discovered the literature and music of Joseph Bruchac of the Nulhegan Abenaki nation. I quickly added his book Keepers of the Earth: Native American Stories Environmental Activities for Children to our culture shelves. Why the culture area and not the library? Because of how well the book addresses environmental stewardship through the telling of Native American stories, relating closely to Montessori's cosmic plan. The activities found in the book provide a holistic, hands-on experience for all learners. Upon request from my students, I also added Keepers of the Night: Native American Stories and Nocturnal Activities for Children to our classroom collection.

Learning about where one comes from, including one’s pre-historical ancestry, aligns with Montessori’s concept of cosmic education. The elementary child is at the perfect age developmentally to learn about the origins of people. He is eager to learn, with wide-eyed curiosity and without prejudice.

November Is Native American Heritage Month

NAMC Presenting Native American Heritage Month in the Montessori Environment teacher reading to children.
Photo courtesy of U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Chad Thompson

With the help of Dr. Arthur C. Parker, a Seneca Indian, Rev. Sherman Coolidge, an Arapahoe, Red Fox James, a Blackfoot Indian, and the Boy Scouts of America, the second Sunday in May became American Indian Day in 1916. In 1990, President George H. W. Bush designated November as National American Indian Heritage Month (About National Native American Heritage Month).

I wish I had known about this when I was teaching! And I really wish I had known about all the resources for teachers available through the Native American Heritage Month website. The website includes lessons, activities, primary sources, games, songs, and more! This is a wonderful list to have available for students to explore.

One lesson that caught my eye was the Language of Place: Hopi Place Names, Poetry, Traditional Dance and Song. The title alone is so very Montessori! As we learn in the early childhood environment, naming is a key part of learning. To know where we come from, we must be able to name it. And, according to the Hopi, we must also sing!

In my culture, we sing songs to show our happiness. We sing while we do our chores because songs seem to make the work go quickly and easily. We believe that when we sing songs, we are sharing our feelings of happiness with nature. Since the corn plants are also our children, we sing to the corn, too. Our elders tell us that when we sing to our corn children, we make them happy. When they are happy, they grow better.

I was also taught that wherever there is singing, there is life. So when songs are sung, they too are born, just like people.

— Ramson Lomatewama, poet (EDSITEment)

This passage simply and beautifully connects language, practical life, botany, grace and courtesy, and music — all rolled into one.

Another cosmic education lesson is found in the lesson plan for Remember. The lesson begins with the poem Remember being read by its author, Poet Laureate Joy Harjo of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. The poem tells us to remember that we are all part of this universe, to respect all things living and non-living, and to value the language of inclusion over exclusion as we each have an integral role to play in this life. After reading or listening to the poem, you can present any of the several activities included with the lesson plan. Or you can simply read the poem together and ask students to reflect on their own, producing their own visions of this poem and its meaning, in that moment in time and place.

Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.

— Joy Harjo

The study of American Indians is fascinating for elementary children, who are in the second plane of development and are seeking answers to life’s biggest questions: Who Am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going? I encourage you, no matter where you live, to bring the story of the American Indians to life through story, song, dance, art, and history.

Works Cited
Native American Heritage Month. “About National Native American Heritage Month.”

EDSITEment. Language of Place: Hopi Place Names, Poetry, Traditional Dance and Song.

Michelle Irinyi — NAMC Tutor & Graduate


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