Within the three-year cycle of Lower Elementary (first through third grades), students and teachers spend one year studying the fundamental needs of humans. This theme is woven throughout their curriculum and students embark on relevant research projects providing purpose and context for their learning. Over the year, the students learn why food, water, shelter, clothing, art, and community are necessary for humanity and how these needs have remained consistent throughout our time on Earth.
One of the ways our students share their growing knowledge of human civilization, and our most basic needs, is through their Festival of Light presentation. Students read the book “Celebrations Of Light : A Year of Holidays Around the World” by Nancy Luenn. The book is a springboard to research projects centered on 12 countries and the light-themed cultural celebrations that both define and unite them. It provides exposure to the diversity of our world while simultaneously highlighting how light brings people together.
Students form teams, each taking one of the 12 countries and its respective celebration. From there, they delve into the history of the country, its culture, and the celebration. They study some of their nation’s accomplishments, art, food, geography, religion, storytelling, traditions, and writings. All of this research prepares them to participate in Greensboro Montessori School’s triennial Festival of Light.
The Festival of Light features all of our Lower Elementary students in an evening presentation for their families, faculty, and members of the greater school community. Each of the 12 teams prepares a narrative on their country’s celebration of light. The celebrations include:
- New Year’s Eve in Brazil
- The Chinese New Year
- The Lantern Parade (Eid al-Fitr) in Sierra Leone
- Lichtmesdag in Luxembourg
- Buddha’s birthday in Korea
- Bon Matsuri in Japan
- Diwali in India
- Loy Krathong in Thailand
- Hanukkah in Israel
- Luciadagen in Sweden
- Christmas in the United States
- Las Posadas in Mexico
- Kwanzaa in the United States
The presentation itself anchors our students’ research in purpose and provides these first, second, and third graders with a nurturing and challenging academic experience. Surrounded by their families, friends, and teachers, students share their knowledge in a safe space where they will be celebrated for their work. The Festival of Light also challenges our students by pushing them to develop and expand their public speaking and presentation skills in new ways.
When the last celebration has been presented, the audience chairs have been put away, and the families have left for home, there’s no doubt our students have been part of an educational experience. One that has taught them about the fundamental needs of humans, community, teamwork, and so much more.