In Montessori, Zoology is introduced in Primary and revisited in a broader and more in-depth sense each year thereafter. In the Lower Elementary class, we introduce the classification of the living world with buttons!
We invite the students to the lesson and share with them that throughout history, scientists have worked on discovering a way to classify our world. Today, each one of us is going to become a scientist, and we are going to invent our own classification system that we can support by giving names to groups with like characteristics.
The teacher then provides a pile of variously shaped and colored buttons for each child and say that their task today is to divide their piles of buttons into no more than 4 or 5 groups. In every group, the buttons in that group must match a certain characteristic and must be different in some way than the buttons in the other groups. Each student must also be able to give a name to the groups by identifying the characteristic of that group. Then the students get to work.
Many will discover that they can often sort their buttons by color, but they soon realize that there are too many color groups for their task. They also look at sorting the buttons by size or shine or shape. Button groups will have names like "shiny," "dark," "large," or "rainbow." Anything and everything is accepted as long as the student has truly placed all the buttons with that characteristic in that group. They then draw a sample of each type of button in their Everything Journals and label each group.
At the next lesson, we again invite them to become scientists, but this time, we tell them that they can only have up to 3 groups or categories. This gets ever more challenging, but the children persevere. Finally, at the last lesson on this topic, the students are tasked with coming up with no more than 2 groups. This gets very difficult and they usually all work together to be successful. Oftentimes, the group names they come up with are something like "those with holes" and "those without holes;" or "round" and "not round."
This lesson, of course, is our introductory lesson to our unit on zoology in the lower elementary classroom. Just as scientists had to look at everything in our world to come up with two groups: living and non-living, so, too, do our budding scientists have to discover their own classification system.
In further lessons, we discover how scientists then took all things living to break them down into 3 Domains; the Eukarya domain into 4 Kingdoms (one kinda kingdom); the Animal Kingdom into 2 main groups: vertebrates and invertebrates, and so on. Each one of these lessons takes the child closer and closer to learning their own place on our Classification Tree.