Travel. I always tell my students that I can tell them everything I know about a country and culture (I mean really, I’ve visited sixteen and counting), but they’ll never truly understand it until they visit it themselves.
But, if you’re feeling lost on how to introduce other cultures, travel boxes are a really great place to start.
So, what is a travel box? It’s a fancy way of saying a box that takes you to another place – metaphorically speaking. You may also hear them called geography boxes or continent boxes. These are an example of mine.
Objective: to learn about other cultures with objects from other cultures.
Deeper objective: to give the child enough excitement and respect for the culture that he or she will one day visit it themselves
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My containers have changed through out the years and have been to fit the needs of the classroom in terms of the students’ personalities and the environment.
One way is to simply use baskets, using a uniform or different color for each continent. Please keep in mind that sometimes using different colors can be a little too “busy” for the child, but I’ve seen some beautiful arrangements such as each basket matching the rainbow. I feel it truly depends on the color scheme of the rest of the shelves and the sensitivities of the child(ren).
Boxes with latches is another option. These can be found at most craft stores, such as Michael’s, Hobby Lobby, and Jo-Ann Fabrics (although if you have a local, small-business craft store I highly encourage you to support them as much as possible). You could also consider boxes with keys for older children, to give the impression of a treasure box. The students will need to be responsible enough with the key(s).
For younger children make sure the lids – if you’re using them – are easy enough to take off independently. Plastic bins with easy lids worked out perfectly in some settings because they are durable and the lids are easy.
Size-wise, bigger isn’t always better, but consider the type of objects you will have in the box or basket. Postcards? Currency? Photos? Clothing? Dolls?
Choose something simple but inviting. For mine pictured here, I chose to print out the outline of the continent with the name on the bottom. Because this was in a Montessori setting, I colored each of the continents the same color of the world continent maps featured in Montessori’s geography puzzles and globes.
There are a million different ways you can add stuff to your boxes. I will provide a few links to various sites that can give you more ideas, free printables, and materials that cost next to nothing or that are a little more pricey.
One of my favorites is adding the Made by Joel paper city toys. He’s a total creative, and I’ve never met a child who hasn’t LOVED the paper toys.
Here is the link to the Paper City Paris. I like to provide the large set in the travel box, then have the mini Paris set on a letter tray next to the travel box. That way the child is able to make his or her own paper city. I also did this when studying Asia with the Aladdin set.
In these photos, you’ll notice that I cut out the description Joel provided with his printable and also real photographs of each Paris landmark. This was so that the children could have a real photograph to compare to the abstract paper toy.
The Europe geography cards with the red border pictured below come from Montessori Printshop. These are beautiful photographs and I often find the students staring intently at each scene. They also have other great sets of cultural photo cards for Asia, Africa, Australia, North America, South America, and Antarctica.
Currency is a definite.
MomsGoneGlobal.com has some neat ideas for currency lessons and pretend play.
CollectPaperMoney.com offers banknotes from around the world for a small fee.
You can also find various sites that allow you to print off currency such as Kidsfunda.com and Colourlovers.com.
I’ve had some very awesome parents donate some of their own travel money from Europe, Asia, and Australia.
You can store your currency in wallets, pouches, or small boxes.
Laughing Star Montessori has some beautiful world animal PDF cards you can download for all of the continents. I went ahead and bit the bullet to purchase the World Amphibians, World Birds, World Fish, World Mammals, and World Reptiles.
What I like about these is that they are fairly affordable, every continent is covered in each set, and there aren’t too many for each continent which makes it easier to store in the boxes or baskets. You don’t want to have TOO much in the boxes or it may be overstimulating.
Laughing Star Montessori also has cards for World Sacred Places, except for Antarctica. These cards have sparked a lot of interest for some students in doing research on particular landmarks.
I felt I needed to handwrite the name of each type of animal and the term sacred places on each title card to avoid confusion for the child. I noticed it also helped the students to make sure that each deck had the title card on top when putting the materials away.
I store each of my small card sets in a tin with a clear view top. I’ve also used attractive envelopes and little pouches.
Other fun little objects I’ve included are decorative spoons that I once collected, jewelry, handicrafts, stones and gems, animal figurines, dolls, batiks… the list can truly go on and on and on.
You don’t just have to limit it to showcasing all of the seven continents at once. For a more narrowed down view, try showcasing one continent each month. You can even become more specific by creating boxes for a particular country.
Have fun with this, and trust that your collection will grow over time. This was always a fun morning circle surprise. If I found another object to add to the box, I would present it to the class and then give a child the honor of adding it to that particular travel box. It was always a fun little adventure for them!