Wednesday, February 22, 2012

New Who?

New who?  New Zealand?  

First of all, this proud Momma wants to show off Kal-El's labeling of the puzzle map for the continent of Australia.

Second, I want to make sure I clear up any inadvertent confusion regarding "continent study" versus "country study."  At the primary level children seem to study geography at the continental level and will explore individual countries more thoroughly at the elementary level.  There are usually eight maps in a primary maps cabinet, one of all of the continents, one for each continent, and one of the child's own country.  The children name each map (except for the one of their country) according to the continent each map represents.  The maps ALSO depicts any "continental neighbors."  This puts Japan on the map of Asia and New Zealand on the map of Australia.

Largely coincidentally, the boys have chosen lately to obsess over continent studies of Antarctica and Australia.  (I don't think it is pure coincidence.  I think this might have to do with them being more "manageable", i.e., Antarctica having no puzzle map and Australia having only 9 or 10 pieces.) In hindsight this is probably misleading for some of my readers, Antarctica being "all in one piece" and Australia being the only continental area in which the continent itself consists of only one country.  Some may no longer have known whether we are studying "countries" or "continents." Sometimes I don't know how muddy things look on the blog because it is so clear in my head.  At least *I* know what I mean!

The whole concept of what a continent truly is geographically and culturally is not a black and white area.  Just as in teaching a child to read,  as an adult you have already gone through all of the stages of understanding and it is not until you try to explain it to a small child that you realize  how inconsistent it is.  I won't get into the inconsistencies here, but you can read about them in this article.  As a parent, you get to decide whether to say "Australia" or "Oceania", "Europe" and "Asia" or "Eurasia."  

Here's a little video that might help clear things up (thanks Gigi):

The day I posted about Kal-El's "Australia book" I received no fewer than three cheerful yet patriotically defensive e-mails from dear readers from New Zealand.  They were all concerned that the boys were under the impression that New Zealand is "part of" Australia rather than the wonderful and separate country that it is.  One reader put it this way, "While Australia is a great country, New Zealand is even more awesome!"  Others bristle at the way New Zealand is "lumped in" with Australia on the puzzle maps.  Another is under the impression that Americans don't know that New Zealand exists.

I will speak to the last point.  OF COURSE Americans know that New Zealand exists!  The boys know that the other more commonly used name for New Zealand is Middle Earth.  They know about the different races such as elves, hobbits, dwarves, and humans that live there.  They know that orcs are even more dangerous than the Tazmanian devil.  Next week, we hope to label The Shire, Isengard, and Mordor on a map of New Zealand.  

JUST KIDDING!  My point is that the beauty of the scenery in the Lord of the Rings movies has heightened the average American's awareness of the country of New Zealand.

Yes!  The boys know New Zealand is a separate country!  The conversation when we look at the puzzle maps goes something like this:  "Here is the continent of Australia.  There are other countries nearby, like this one...New Zealand, and this one...Papua New Guinea."   They preferred the pavlova to the lamingtons if you New Zealanders need ammunition for your friendly rivalry back home.

If it feels weird to New Zealanders to be "lumped in" with Australia, believe me when I say that it's weird for some of us Americans too when we see "Greenland" on the North America Montessori Puzzle.  Who even knows what goes on in Greenland? (I'll probably get a few e-mails on that one!).  Just as weird for me is seeing Central America on there.  When I was growing up it was taught as part of neither continent, but rather an isthmus between.  Culturally it seems to have so much more in common with South American countries than the U.S.  

Friendly rivalries aside, it feels comfortable to talk about Canada and the U.S. in the same breath when I present North America.  It feels a little odd to "lump together" the countries of Europe and Asia.  A miniature Eiffel tower certainly isn't representative at all of Poland for example.  

Pedagogically, what can be learned from this is that one should address this issue when presenting the puzzle maps rather than suppressing information.  When we take out the Europe or Asia boxes I am always sure to say something like "There are a lot of different countries on this continent!  They are all different from one another in some ways and alike in other ways."   Then I feel like are approaching the materials from the boxes from an honest place.  I don't "hope they don't notice" that Europe and Asia and Africa are not discreet landmasses.  Much like our talk about the oceans we matter-of-factly note that it is easier to describe certain geographical areas if we have names for different parts of them. 

Kal-El likes to do work with the continent boxes and maps together with the purpose of learning specifically WHICH PART of a continent something is fun.  Even at the age of six, he realizes that the entire continental area isn't "whitewashed" with the contents of the boxes and wants to know what happens in each specific place.  You may have noticed I added a piece of painters tape to the map and drew a compass rose on it.  Thanks to our compass work, knowing N,S, E, and W really helps Kal-El get his bearings on a map.  It helps greatly when identifying the oceans on the flat maps. It also helps him do one of his favorite works, read the information cards for each of the animals in his continent box looking for information like "lives in eastern coastal areas" so he can place animals in "appropriate" places on the continents.  (I think his emu is in the wrong place).  This may seem superficial with just the animals, but it is a good scaffolding for the idea that each area is not necessarily the same.

Also, please don't forget that the child's first experiences with the puzzle maps are completely sensorial in nature.  In my albums, you don't talk about the names of the countries at all for quite some time.  Kal-El is transitioning to being more of an "elementary" child at this point and my primary readers will have to bear that in mind and consult your own albums for more information.  

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  1. I'm LOVING your recent posts. You're kids are at the age that they are now really getting into the "meat" of the matters. This warms the soul of the elementary teacher in me :-)

    I FINALLY got around to posting on overlap between primary and elementary math: I got off on my own little tangents a bit, but hopefully you'll find some helpful thoughts. There's lots more I could say, so please let me know if I didn't address your concerns or if there're more specific questions.

  2. Oh, I hope this generates a long discussion. I have another question to add. Is Hawaii part of Oceania, or not part of a continent at all? I've begun to depend on the internet for so much mis-information, that I'm starting to get confused.

  3. Anon.

    Geography is honestly my worst life-long subject and I'm not the person to ask. My best advice is to do some real research and decide how YOU want to do it. Since this is all arbitrary anyway, I'm not sure it matters.

    I can tell you that Hawaii is pictured on our Australia continent map and also, of course, on the map for the country of the United States. But, it doesn't have a removable piece on the Australia map, it's "background." So, if the puzzles could talk I would say "not part of a continent at all" but I am not very familiar with "Oceania" as a concept.

  4. Beth,

    THANK YOU! It IS exciting, isn't it?

    Thanks for the link to the math post, I've read it twice already and will comment after I've read it a few more times :) I liked it :)

  5. Wow! GREAT Job Kal-El! I love it! I really need to invest in some type of maps. The Puzzle maps were just not in my price range when I place my orders, but I am thinking that I may just need to bite the bullet on this. Your posts are so inspiring! Thanks for all the information! It is so helpful as I see Bunny moving forward toward the elementary!
    I will admit that how some of the countries are grouped is confusing! I think right now Central America is in the South America continent box. I was going to move the stuff around, but I just havent yet. This post is making me want to get things in better order!

  6. From yet another Kiwi reader, so glad your boys know about NZ! We have an ongoing interest in geography in our 3-6 class right now and are getting great inspiration from you guys!

  7. I have the area around Australia named "Oceania" to indicate that the "continent" is made up of many countries in addition to Australia. This is how my primary trainer explained it anyway.

    Hawaii is part of the continent of North America, being a USA state; but as My Boys' Teacher points out, it is going to be "background" on other maps because the maps are set up to highlight a region, as well as place it in context with the rest of the world.

  8. Jessica,

    Is Hawaii pictured on your Montessori puzzle maps for North America? It is NOT pictured on my North America map. I don't know if some of them are different or not.

    My map of the U.S. has it pictured, but again as background and not as a removable piece oddly. (Nienhuis maps are the same way). I'm not sure we can make an argument that something is physically part of one continent just because it is politically part of a country from that continent.

  9. So funny that there are so many different interpretations over something so simple as labelling countries and continents!! I am a New Zealander living in Australia and we refer to it all as 'Australasia' but as soon as you hit countries that are Southern Asia, that's somewhere else. Really enjoying your posts of late. Has inspired me to get down and plan ahead so that I am 'ready'. Thanks again!

  10. You got me thinking WHY we call a continent a continent. I thought it had to do with the plate tectonics. I also thought Central America was included with North America because that is where it split from the supercontinent. So I went searching and found this video. Thought you would enjoy!

  11. Gigi,

    Thanks for the link! That guy has it pegged! I should add that video to this post :)

  12. I'm catching up on old posts...the first thing I thought when I saw your Australia map all nicely labeled was "They forgot Tasmania!" Hope you have a label somewhere for poor Tassie! :) Growing up in America we referred to the whole area as Australia. Now that I'm living here I wouldn't dream of doing that!

  13. Sheryll,

    LOL, yes we do...I think that one fell on the floor. Things fall on the floor A LOT at our house.