How 40 million people are not on the maps in your classroom (Oceania exists!)

How 40 million people are not on the maps in your classroom (Oceania exists!)


July 2020  I've seen a growing number of Montessorians change their 'Australia' cards to being called Oceania but not changing any of the content, so basically still just kangaroos and pictures of the 'Opera House'. This is not helpful either. If your cards are going to be about Oceania please ensure they talk about all the places in Oceania!

December 2020: I've got some answers to common protests and questions here

I've been thinking lately about Montessori for social change. I have been encouraged and provoked by the discussion I have been having in a couple of Facebook groups. I love our world wide Montessori community! You can see my responses to some and not so common questions and responses in my follow up article here

As many of you have read, I have quite distinct thoughts on how our cultural geography areas should promote diversity but how about our puzzle maps?
In most Montessori 3-9 classrooms people have a collection of puzzle maps that generally consist of the following:
- A hemisphere map
- Puzzle maps of the continents
- A puzzle map of the country the child is currently living in.

One of these continent puzzle maps I think is controversial is the 'Australia' puzzle map. I wonder if you are aware of what the Australia puzzle map is missing?

The Australia puzzle map usually has removable parts for the states of Australia, New Zealand (where I live) and Papua New Guinea, but what about the rest of the Pacific Islands?
The Pacific Islands are made up of three major groups: Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia. Do your continent boxes have representatives of these three groups?  These islands cover over 10 000 sq km. Many were colonised by the French, British, US or Japanese or even New Zealand!
Including the big countries that we have on our Montessori Australia map the Pacific Ocean is home to 40 million people. Sadly most puzzle and pin maps in our Montessori classrooms do not show these countries or places and I think it is time they did.
Imagine if we had a puzzle map that did not include Argentina or Canada or Iraq on it.
These countries all have a similar size population to the Pacific Islands (Including Australia and New Zealand) yet many of the Pacific islands are missing from many of our Montessori geography core equipment and in many puzzle maps I have seen their existence is marked by a couple of black unnamed dots on a puzzle map or a sea of blue.  I have rarely seen a child recreate a puzzle map with the little 'black dots' and show Samoa, Tonga or Tuvalu for example.
The Pacific Islands are sadly bearing the brunt of climate change in our world today and many face sea level rise issues.  Sea level rises impact on the ability of countries to grow enough food to feed as well as decreasing the actual space of the islands themselves for people to live on. Sea level rise in the Pacific has caused saltwater infestation of crops and an increase in natural disasters.

Have a look at these pictures from a recent article by National Geographic which show the impact of climate change on the Pacific.

In addition, many of the residents of the Pacific Islands have migrated to other countries, namely New Zealand or Australia. This migration has been happening for well over 50 years. In the past migration has been for economic and social reasons however the UN points out that climate change may further increase migration from many Pacific Countries. 

In my classroom, we were fortunate enough to have this puzzle map. (I am not getting paid for linking to this puzzle map I just think it is awesome :) )
The great thing about it was that it was a true representation of Moana/Oceania and all its countries. In the usual Australia puzzle map Australia dominates with its size on the Puzzle however the puzzle map above puts things in perspective much like the Gall-Peters projection map puts all of the continents into perspective. I would say the above map should be in our classrooms more so than the Australia puzzle map.

Another thing that links to this topic is what to call 'Australia.' Australia is a country however we traditionally teach it as a continent, I feel we should change to calling this area of the world Moana or Oceania which clearly describes that the area is dominated by Ocean and not by a country. It also gives a space for equality and equity in that all the people of the Pacific are recognised.
Oh and let's not forget to mention that perhaps NZ isn't in Oceania it might be part of the continent of Zealandia!
You can check out my own Oceania items in my store. Have a look at these ones that provide a glimpse into the whole of this region not just Australia!




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The Oceania puzzle map you linked to seems to no longer exist :( :(

I remember you mentioning it before so I came back to this post to find the link while updating my class wishlist—that website no longer sells it. I’m going to do some eBay and reseller scouring to see if I can find it. The Australia puzzle map has always bothered me for its inconsistency (states and countries?!) as well as how much it leaves off.

Tam C

Kia ora!!!
Thank you so much for this! Your post is important on so many levels! I’ve often felt that island communities and cultures all over the world are misrepresented or completely ignored by some of the standard resources we present to our children at their most impressionable ages. Montessori does a much better job of encouraging deeper understanding of a diverse range of cultures than many other methods of teaching & learning but your suggestions bring a greater awareness to a region of the world that covers almost a third of its surface!!!
And don’t even get me started on how to introduce Hawaii to my children😅🙄
I’m a freshly minted (but long anticipated) Home Ed Māmā and I have always admired the focus Montessori Ed places on geography and culture. I do occasionally worry that continent and even country study creates the false perception of cultural homogeneity and monolithic societies but I suppose that’s what independent research (in their older years) and family discussions are for!?!
In the end we are all more alike than we are different but as an indigenous minority in my own country perhaps I am hyper-aware of the problematic nature of country vs culture studies.
Thanks again for a wonderful article and some new resources for my loooong Wishlist!
Ngaa manaakitanga x


I read this article by you on the Plenty of Trays website a few days ago and have been thinking about it ever since. It was an eye-opener for me. I received my training in the USA in 1972. I have seen many changes over the years in regards to materials, types of programs and especially the length of the school day/daycare. I moved from the classroom teacher and owner of a small school into the administration and teacher training aspect of Montessori in 2000. While seeing the term Oceania pop up in some materials used in classrooms, I never fully appreciated it. Even with attending many AMS national conferences, I never came across the information that you provided. Considering how important geography/culture are to the Montessori curriculum, I do find it upsetting that the Montessori community, as a whole, has not devoted more time into changing and adopting uniform materials.

Since retiring in 2012, I have joined the faculty of two Montessori schools as their academic consultant. When we reopen I will be bringing up this subject. Since some of the faculty are recent graduates from different training centers it will be interesting to see what if any information they were given. I certainly have not seen any evidence of a change from the Australian Maps and materials that I was taught in 1972. Should you have further information or websites that you would recommend I would appreciate you sending them to me.
Thank you,
Alison Bourdelais

Alison Bourdelais
Thank you for this article, which so passionately expresses the desire for inclusivity and ecological responsibility. Even though I am a teacher, born and living in the USA, I have, for years, felt that it is important to teach my students about Oceania (Moana) and its many valuable and diverse inhabitants. I will definitely look into the purchase of this more inclusive map puzzle and will continue to include lessons about Oceania in my prepared environment. Much support and camaraderie from The States!
Beka Guthrie

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