It might surprise you to know that we almost never study cold places in the winter. While everyone else is studying penguins, polar bears, and arctic places we like to do plant study and visit biomes such as the Tropical Forest and Coral Reef. It's cold enough here in Minnesota, we might as well stay inside and dream of warm things! After taking the fall to study exciting things such as American Government as our main group subject, we returned to our biome study from last year and moved to the ocean to study coral reefs.
With a Montessori approach to mixed age unit studies at home, the materials are the backbone of your curriculum. The resources you choose to invest in will dictate the direction your studies go. For this topic, I recommended starting with the Waseca Habitat Mat because it comes with 8 weeks of lesson plans and activities that can serve as the backbone for your study. It's pricey, but worth the investment especially when you consider it as a semester of science for multiple age groups. I do one habitat mat presentation each Monday and then assign leveled individual research and follow up work throughout the week. For younger students this might mean presenting a supplemental topic or card work (such as Parts of A Fish) or simply having a Coral Reef discovery basket available.
In addition to the Waseca mat, the second core component of our study ended up being the crochet coral reef project. We had almost daily knitting and/or crochet lessons and each elementary and up child ended up with their own collection of samples. Kylee actually created a shoe box diorama (without ever knowing those words) of her own. Researching patterns, techniques, and species was a daily choice work for almost everyone. As a result, we also ended up with a basket of mommy-knit/crochet pieces that was perfect for Tomas to explore. I even caught a couple older kids organizing the coral to tell stories. My favorite was when Caleb went and got a writing board and pegs so that he could make certain pieces stand up correctly and started requesting specific species to complete his display. Thankfully they came together quickly, although there was a certain amount of laundry neglect in the early days!
Here are some of the materials you may want to consider.
Waseca Biomes Coral Reef Habitat Mat (Free Lesson Plans available on link)
Coordinating Pictures for Safari Toob (Free on TPT)
Montessori Mapping Materials
Coral Reef 3 or 4 Part Cards (I like these from Diamond Montessori)
Coral Reef Puzzle (preschool or big kid)
There are many great nonfiction titles for this topic and the vivid natural colors make most any coral reef book (written for children or adults) enjoyable. I could never list all of them and you can probably find a nice collection at your local library. We ended up incorporating a ton of art extensions into our study through the Crochet Coral Reef project (see TED Talk in additional resources) and various coloring and drawing books. Nature Anatomy contains a short section on Ocean Life with lovely illustrations that we included in our nature journaling.
Crochet Coral Reef TED Talk
Marine Crochet/Knit Patterns
Coral Watch Project
Any Local-to-you Aquarium
Coral Reef Study Pinterest Board
Lesson Suggestions/Topics by Age Group
Once you select your materials, you can decide which topics you are going to focus on. Consider what your child is otherwise learning and lessons that can be adjusted or repeated using the Coral Reef as a topic. For a young child it might be simply vocabulary building and exploration. For older children, consider what level of research and/or writing would be appropriate. Younger children should have materials available on their shelves for free choice and occasional lessons/introductions. As a child grows, they should have increasingly complex individual follow up work. The older the child, the more you probably want to focus on areas of ecology and conservation. The following list is not a lesson plan, but a starting point of ideas and assignments.
Coral Reef Discovery Basket (shown above)
Coral Reef Pictures/Objects (shown below with Caleb)
Coral Reef Picture/Picture (make 2 copies of the Coral Reef Toob Images on TPT)
Children's House (3-6)
Activities with Infant/Toddler Materials
Parts of A Fish (Jellyfish, Starfish, etc)
In-Depth Mapping Tie-Ins (I find this is always a great place to start with this age group.)
Waseca Coral Reef Lessons (Free, See Link Above)
Non-Fiction Research & Writing
Data Collection and/or analysis
Fiction & Non-Fiction Writing
Data Collection and/or analysis
Advanced Ecology/Conservation Study, Awareness, & Advocacy
Project Design & Execution
Planning, Preparing, & Presenting to Younger Students
To see some incredible Montessori secondary students in action on the coral reef, check out the Marine & Environmental Stewardship program at Montessori Hale O Keiki in Hawaii! You can even visit the Coral Watch project (link above) website, click on Data and then Map and see the data that was collected by the students! There is a more in-depth article on their upper elementary and secondary marine biology program in the Winter 2017 Issue of Montessori Life, the journal of the American Montessori Society.
If you are interested in mixed age studies like this one, be sure to check out our Interdisciplinary Journey into Ancient Egypt and our Bird Study Unit.
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