Common Needs and Time

Common Needs and Time

Background Information

In the Lower Elementary program, the students will have become aware of the common needs of people, the term used to refer to what people need in addition to air in order to live and thrive:

  • food, including gathering, hunting, shepherding, storing, and growing food, as well as finding, collecting, and storing water.
  • shelter
  • clothing
  • transportation
  • defense
  • medicine
  • art
  • religon/spirituality

Although, not essential to sustain life, art and other creative activities such as music and persona; adornment have been part of human existence since early times and are usually often included in the list of common needs. The development of common needs depended on social organization, ways of gathering together for protection, companionship, communication, or other mutual benefit, such as finding more food to eat.

In modern times, people manipulate their environment in many ways, such as using air conditioners to stay cool in a hot climate or using a flashlight to see in the dark. In early history, people also manipulated their environment to meet their needs, fanning themselves with large leaves to stay cool or wrapping themselves in the skins of animals to keep warm.

As mentioned earlier in this section, early people simply followed their natural (circadian) rhythm in sleeping and waking. However, astray developed, their needs became more complex, and they needed to keep track of time. Here are a few possible reasons why:

  • to know when the weather would become colder, hotter, or wetter, and prepare for it
  • to keep track of when animals would be most plentiful for hunting
  • to know hen to plant or harvest crops
  • to calculate how long it would take to get from one place to another
  • to communicate with each other about time

In addition, needing to keep track of time, early people began to choose the time to do things. For example, they might have found it difficult to travel long distances under the hot daylight sun, so they stayed awakened traveled at night to a good hunting place, then slept all day. In this and many other ways, early people modified their usual patterns to meet their common needs.

What the students have studied in other subjects, such as geography and science, can give them important information about the challenges early people had in meeting their common needs. For example, in physical geography the students have studied the three major climactic regions of the world. If the students link their knowledge of these climactic regions to their study of history, they know hat early humans who lived close to the equator might have experienced unique conditions such as the following:

  • moderate to hot climate with periods of heavy rainfall
  • many kinds of animals and plants
  • long periods of heat and little rain
  • long periods of daylight

The students might discover that early people who lived close to the equator adjusted their behavior or made use of environmental conditions in ways like these in order to meet their common needs:

  • invented ways of staying cool: coming, shelter, fans
  • looked for ample, clean source of water
  • developed ways of storing and carrying water
  • passed on knowledge about what animals and plants were safe to eat
  • passed on knowledge about what leaves or barks made people feel better when they were ill
  • made weapons and cutting tools for preparing animals and plants for food

The students could apply this same process to early people who lived far away from the equator, either north or south. Applying a processionals like this helps the students understand that much of history is made up of how people have met their common human needs over time.

Activity 1: Linking Time of Year and Common Needs of People

Purpose: To review common human needs and understand that seasonal changes or the time of year affects how people meet their common needs.


  • Globe
  • Large poster showing words or symbols representing the common needs of people
  • Large calendar or poster listing all the months of the year on one page


Most Montessori teachers present this concept in Year 4.

Announce that students will have an opportunity to think about how time of year affects people’s needs locally.

Demonstrate the globe and invite the students to indicate where they live. Discuss briefly the distance of this location from the equator, the presence pf mountains or bodies of water, and the type of land and vegetation. Ask the students to describe current climate conditions: Hot? Cold? Raining? Snowing? Long periods of daylight? Short periods of daylight? Put the globe aside.

Demonstrate the calendar, then ask the students to identify the day, month, and time of year, then describe local conditions (e.g., sunny and hot). Put the calendar aside.

Referring to the poster, review the common needs (food, water, shelter, clothing, transportation, defense, medicine, art, and religion/spirituality) and discuss briefly what each need involves. Invite the students to describe the things they will do each day to meet their common needs.

Explain that the combined information on the globe, calendar, and poster show how the time of year and where the students live affects how they meet their common needs. Discuss together questions like these: What do the students eat in a typical day? Where do their families obtain food? Is some locally grown food available only at certain times of the year? Ho long is the growing season for local gardeners and farmers? What are the students wearing today? Can the students comfortably wear this clothing all year round? Do the students have access to clean water adequate to their needs? What do they use the water for? What type of transportation did they use to get to school today? Can they use this indeed of transportation in all seasons? And so on.

Ask the students to use their journals to write a brief summary of: (1) where they live, (2) how far from the equator, (3) what day it is, (4) what month it is, (5) what season of the year, and how all of these five conditions affect how they are meeting their common needs today.   


* Write a brief history comparing how you meet your common needs for clothing and shelter today with how you might have met these needs six months ago, linking these changes with the rotation of the sun and the time of year.

* Write a brief history comparing how local people meet their common needs fr food and transportation today with how they might have met those needs 10,000 years ago, linking these changes with the rotation of the sun and time of year.


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