As educators, Maria Montessori implored us to regard the child’s intelligence as a fertile field where we sow seeds that grow under the fiery energy of the child’s imagination. She said: “Our aim therefore is not merely to make the child understand, and still less to force him to memorize, but so to touch his imagination as to enthuse him to his inmost core.
The Waseca materials were born out of an exciting phenomenon I witnessed in my elementary classroom when I first sowed the seeds of biomes to my students in conjunction with geography, botany and zoology. I saw language came alive with researches on animals, art projects and dramatic presentations that spun off the theme. It was the most dynamic learning experience I have ever witnessed. Each child in the class was shining with their accomplishments, eager to learn and empowered to be creative. Ever since those years, I have been attempting to share and develop materials that would provide structure and stimulation so that event might be replicated and expanded.
While the cosmic curriculum lays a foundation for the idea of a cooperative and interdependent evolution of life, environmental education is a missing component of the Montessori curriculum. The Biomes Curriculum attempts to fill that hole, using the guiding principles of the Montessori Method. Biome study is a unique approach to geography that invites you and your students to approach the study of a continent according to the plants and animals that live there along with human cultures that seek to meet their basic needs within their biome. This approach encourages an integration of various disciplines traditionally isolated in education. The physical geography of a continent is shown as interconnected to the botanical and zoological species that adapt to it. Human culture is presented in its relationship to the biosphere. We, either, adapt and live in harmony as indigenous cultures have done for thousands of years or, as modern cultures, we harvest resources and seek to modify the biome we live in. This approach to continent studies encourages young learners to see their relationship to the world in a new way that departs from the traditional anthropocentric view of political geography.
By studying different biomes within different continents, it is likely that children will develop a strong understanding of how life adapts to different conditions found within the eight biomes presented. As Montessorians, we understand that as the indirect aim of this material. The direct aim is the development of critical thinking skills and a motivation to read, write, and communicate information. While learning the names of plants and animals and information about them is fun and empowering for children and will, inevitably, happen, please keep in mind that something more lasting and momentous is in process. Hopefully, these materials will generate enthusiasm for learning.
We have the opportunity to make a lasting impression on the perceptions of the very impressionable children under our care. Maria Montessori lived during a time of world wars when peace was the preeminent concern. While peace is still an issue in our times, the health of the planet is also at risk. We can help them to establish a connection to the natural world, an understanding of its guiding principles and an awareness necessary to create a sustainable future. If we work together, sharing information and ideas and inspiring one another to act, we can start a peaceful environmental revolution. We can change our world by changing our perception of it.
Our Wonderful Waseca Team
Sharon Duncan: Prime Mover & Sire Visionary Creator
Sharon is the founding mother of Waseca and the Waseca Biomes Curriculum. She is a shining example of the power that lies within the creative spirit when it is combined with an unprecedented work ethic. Her philosophical platform is deeply rooted in the fundamental ideas found in the teachings of Maria Montessori, but she is constantly pushing them further to enhance and deepen the learning experiences for children and teachers alike. Sharon combines her knowledge of the world with her artistic take on it. Her magnificent illustrations can be found throughout all of the biome materials and she has developed an astonishing body of work over the years.
Sharon is a constant inspiration to us here at Waseca Biomes. Her eyes light up like fireflies when she gets a new idea, or when she can share her well of knowledge with others. She is open and attentive to new ideas and unafraid of venturing in to new territories. She is frequently found snacking on raw vegetables and pecan crackers, always on her way to realize yet another new project.
Allison Hagood: Empress Supreme of Waseca Biomes
No one could run Waseca Biomes except the brilliant and forever resilient Alli. Graced with the ability to calmly handle an ungodly number of tasks and people at the same time - and somehow always make the right decisions - with ease and the widest smile. You would want Alli on your side in any kind of situation, good or bad; her leadership abilities and sharp intellect combined with hands on readiness to fix any problem – and to find ingenious solutions to unsolvable obstacles - keep her employees in a constant state of awe. It’s not easy to multitask a full operation of handmade materials and a bunch of artists and visionaries at the same time. Alli is one of those rare gems that is as creative as she is practical and as kind as she is charmingly tough. These qualities help her get her visions and ideas realized. She hustles like a mother, is a true American Maverick, and is the greatest hostess of house parties Athens has ever experienced. Always with Coach, the black lab that does not leave her side, and a parade of friends and family who doesn’t want to either.
Julie Geer: Gutenbergian Supervisor & Maker of Arts & Design
Julie is the heart of Waseca’s central operations. She oversees all the printing jobs making sure they come out perfect (and in the right order). A ceramicist, jewelry maker, and graphic designer by trade, she keeps up with our printer and feeds it all the color and paper it needs. Julie has a deep connection to the earthliness of being alive and has a keen eye for all things unique and special. She informs all of our daily tasks with a sweet and efficient calmness that enhances every step of our operations. She also has a remarkable gift of keeping track of a well of files and making sure we are always on top of our game, even when it means she has to shake the yellow color cartridges between every printing job to get the last drop out!
If the printer is not spitting out gorgeous biome cards, she will be found helping out wherever she can (in the woodshop, in the assembly room, or in the office). A delight to be near year around (always with little treats in her bag that she shares with us), she will most likely be found with a cup of fresh herbal tea by her side making sure we are fully stacked on all the shelves. Julie is also our shop alternative medicine woman and is a limitless source of information about natural cures for all kinds of ailments. We are lucky to have such a spiritually attuned, funny, and vibrant being among us.
Jacqueline Kari: Tour de force of Logistics & Biome Court Poet
Jackie is the woman we all aspire to be: kind, funny, beautiful, and with an intellect that surpasses most. But, on top of that she is also hard-working. She serves up the sharpest observations and the wittiest comments to all of the doings and making of Waseca Biomes and keeps our shipping operations afloat with stunning stamina and an even more stunning smile and attitude. Her virgo sun shines through in her amazing attention to details and getting the job done. She makes it look so easy! Jackie is in charge of the shipping room, but lends her life path of writing to all of our publications. With a keen eye and a generous heart, she adds that extra beauty to all of our materials, and to the work environment in general. We often wonder how she manages to always look so stylish while she lifts 70 pounds packages for hours on end, and still dish out the most interesting and funny stories on top of it all.
Katherine McGuire: Eximious Prime Numerator and Graphic Design Sage Extraordinaire
One of the best things that happened to Waseca Biomes last year was the arrival of Katherine McGuire. A true renaissance woman she contributes an array of skills to Waseca. She can do anything! It is very rare to find a person with talents as broad as that of an artist and designer combined with serious number crunching abilities - AND razor sharp analytical business skills and insights - but Katherine has it all! She's been instrumental in Waseca Biomes endeavor of becoming a balanced enterprise in our quest to educate and enrich children all over the world . She adds so much knowhow to our team and her vibrant firecracker personality and sweetness - and let's not to forget her wonderful sense of humor - has made her a most adored member of our team!
Bridget Lasch: Nonpareil Graphic Designer & Technical Eximious Being
Bridget is our graphic design wizard and a creative beast with the sweetest deposition to be found on this side of the Mississippi (wait, what side is Jacksonville on again?). We were sad to see her move from Athens, but we couldn’t let her go for real, so she is our out-of-shop designer and layout master. Bridget sings almost all the time and, thankfully, beautifully so. We miss that deeply in our day to day life (it goes from Dolly Parton to eighties metal within minutes), but we get her on the speaker phone and all that magic comes through - especially her wonderful contagious laughter. When she is not pondering layout solutions and researching the biomes for our Portfolio workbooks, she will be found doing yoga in the company of her cats or making puppets and props for a future puppet show. (You can move back to Athens anytime, Bridget! We miss you!)
Dana Jo Cooley: Multi Designer & Artist Extraordinaire
Dana Jo is a cornerstone at the Waseca Biomes. This Southern belle is the tinker and the maker and the longest working collaborator at Waseca. An artist in her own right, she will (in between making stage visuals for acts like Kishibashi and gallery shows in Brooklyn) come to Waseca Biomes and make a catalogue that is so beautiful and well-thought-out it takes our breath away. She builds, she paints, she makes sculptures, and she brings all this know-how to the shop as she does the most gorgeous layouts and illustrations for us. Her quirky and funny personality and southern twang lights up our days. A wild child par excellence and with the best handwriting in a thousand mile radius, we are grateful to claim her as our very own.
Nina Barnes: Illustrator & Fastidious Operator of Machines
Nina has been with Waseca Biomes for over a year and she’s causing a lot of problems. She broke the paper cutting machine for one (in the busiest season of all), and she keeps forgetting what goes where into which box – we are all hoping she pulls her s**t together soon. (Being Norwegian explains A LOT of her strange behavior...) Nina does make some cool art, so we decided to keep her – but on a leash and only to be fed once a day.
Often heard muttering: “Biomes, biomes, biomes”*
*Nina was gracious enough to write and illustrate all of the Waseca Biomes employee profiles. Her wit, warmth, and humor abound. However funny her own profile is, we do find the need to add to it: Nina is an extraordinary artist and illustrator in her own right. We are beyond grateful that she brings all these talents and skills to Waseca Biomes and infuses our products (and our office) with the brilliance of her work and her gorgeous person. She is passionate, intelligent, and engaged; whether it is the time she works in production (cutting and collating our paper products) or the time she invests in illustration, she is constantly improving our products and processes - with a wonderful accent to boot!