The 5 Great Lessons in Elementary
“Where did Earth come from?”
“How did life on Earth begin?”
“Why are humans here?”
Children around the ages of 6–12 (what Maria Montessori called the Second Plane of Development) show interest in big questions. In earlier years of childhood, students experience what Montessori called “the absorbent mind,” as they are readily able to absorb information from the surrounding world. In this Second Plane of Development, children shift to “the reasoning mind,” one that must seek out and make meaning of new information. As a result, children at this stage are highly interested in understanding the world around them and their place in it.
Maria Montessori took what she called a “Cosmic” approach to educating children in the Second Plane of Development. Her curriculum aims to provide students a path to follow in seeking out and discovering their own answers to big questions.
As such, Montessori created her “Five Great Lessons” – meaning great in breadth (though we think the quality, too, is pretty great!). Each of these lessons consists of an impressionistic story that provides students with a piece of the “big picture” of how our Earth and life on it came to be. When students encounter this global view of our universe, they can discover the interconnectedness of each piece and the way in which each step was critically important in laying the foundation for what came next. Each lesson aims to spark imagination and interest, and to serve as a springboard in initiating student exploration and discovery. Student work that comes from these lessons often involves diving into many areas of the curriculum, including science, history, geography, math and language.
The Five Great Lessons are presented in the following order:
The Coming of the Universe – through experiments, demonstrations and storytelling, this creation story gives students an impression of the formation of the universe and our planet, and lays the foundation for study of physics, chemistry, astronomy, geography and geology.
The Coming of Life – through guided exploration of the Time Line of Life, this story explains the coming and evolution of life on our planet, and emphasizes the diversity of life and interconnectedness of all of the organisms on Earth. This lesson begins a study of biology – botany, zoology, ecosystems, and microorganisms.
The Coming of Humans – through a timeline, story and visual aids, students explore the way in which the qualities that make humans unique have helped them advance as a species from their early beginnings. Students discover the ways in which humans have met their fundamental needs – for nutrition, shelter, transportation, clothing, defense, culture and communication, and how this has impacted the development of civilizations. This sparks work related to history, cultures, social studies and geography.
The Story of Writing – through a story and visual aids, students learn the way in which written expression has developed from prehistory to modern day, and discover the important role written communication plays in helping humans to connect and progress. It also leads to study of reading, writing, languages and history.
The Story of Numbers – similar to The Story of Writing, this lesson uses stories and visual aids to present the development of number systems from ancient civilizations to modern society. It sparks deeper exploration of mathematics, geometry, number systems and history.
These lessons, which are truly at the heart of the Montessori Elementary curriculum, are presented each year. This allows students to deepen and broaden their understanding, and pursue their interests as they follow different paths towards new knowledge.
>> Featured Lesson: Explore the Time Line of Life