by Mary Moore
Children in the elementary program are in the second plane of development, according to Dr. Montessori. They have left behind the absorbent mind, which helped them soak up learning through individual experiences in the environment, and now learn more deeply through social interaction. This change requires a new approach to their education. For example, the children in Morado work together frequently. We’ll explore different ways the social impulse changes our approach to education in several posts. Today, we explore how it makes stories an ideal inspiration and framework for the curriculum. We’ll particularly focus on the Great Lessons, which are five stories we tell at the beginning of every year.
The secret of good teaching is to regard the child’s intelligence as a fertile field in which seeds may be sown, to grow under the heat of flaming imagination…so to touch his imagination as to enthuse him to his inmost core.
Maria Montessori To Educate the Human Potential (p. 11)
When your children were younger, they were content to know what things were, so we spent lots of time naming things. Now, they want to know that, plus how and why they are that way. They want details, but only after they get the big picture. What bigger picture could we give than how the universe came to be? This first story starts children wondering about things. It introduces the disciplines of chemistry, physics, astronomy, cosmology, and geology. It also introduces the idea that everything serves itself, but also serves the universe. The children begin to think about what their own role might be. This story has a secular spiritual component that can be compatible with both religious and non-religious families at home.
The second story tells about The Coming of Life, opening all the areas of biology for study. Again we suggest that everything has a ‘cosmic task’—it serves its own needs and the needs of the universe. Each of us has a place in the universe. We celebrate The Coming of Humans with its own story, and all the areas of study related to culture come up as we explore how different peoples filled their needs. This story describes “a special kind of love” that appears unique to humans: we can care about people we’ve never seen, people who lived before us and those who will come after us. The fourth story is about writing. Through this, we explore different ways people communicate on paper, and how this spreads their culture and opens them to greater influence by other groups. The final story is about numbers, and it makes math so much more than different ways of calculating; math is a way of understanding the world.
I became an elementary Montessori teacher because I loved how the approach revealed the inter-connectedness of the universe. Children could discover their own role within that web and develop their own powers to learn. I hope you will enjoy your glimpses into what your children are thinking about as we tell the Great Lessons. Bedtime and travelling time are probably the two most likely times for you to hear what your child is wondering about most. Try to remain alert to those moments, and give your particular attention then.
The Great Lessons will take us into October, but we will not leave them behind at that point. Future lessons will refer back to these Great Lessons from different angles. In grammar, we see how nouns are matter and verbs are energy, for example. In biology, we learn how plants and animals are adapted to their surroundings.
Here are some resources:
Watch this nine minute video with your child. It captures the wonder of things both very large and very small.
If you prefer a visual presentation of cosmic education and the Great Lessons, watch this short PowerPoint presentation, followed by the one specifically on the Great Lessons.
This is a great introduction to the Great Lessons on an adult level (not a Montessori version, but notice how mainstream Montessori ideas have become! You can even get a degree in this now.)
Read Montessori Today, by Paula Polk Lillard. This may be a full book, but it is an easy, quick read.
Mary Moore is one of the Lead Teachers in the Morado Classroom. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.