Connective Thinking Through the Great Lessons

Students exploring the development of life through the Timeline of Life and work on the Five Kingdoms.

Connective thinking, or the ability to connect knowledge across topics and subjects, is supremely valuable, both as an academic skill and as a life skill. It is repeatedly identified as a key trait in successful innovators and leaders. It is invaluable in enabling people to solve problems effectively, and is critical in enabling people to invent, create and innovate.

The Montessori Lower Elementary curriculum is uniquely structured to facilitate connective thinking. The curriculum as a whole is cosmic in its approach, characterized by the presentation of vast ideas that connect various subject areas to the children. This is particularly true in the Cultural areas of the classroom, which act as crucial integrators of Mathematics and Language.

Exploring the fundamental needs of humans through a “Survival Game.”

The five Great Lessons offer a good illustration of Montessori’s cosmic approach to learning. The Great Lessons are a series of stories that present truly vast notions and ideas to children, in the form of dramatic and impressionistic stories. There are five Great Lessons:

The Story of the Universe
The Story of Life
The Coming of Humans
The Story of Writing
The Story of Numbers

These stories present to the child an all-encompassing backdrop by which to frame all of their learning. By presenting a glimpse of the whole to the child, the child becomes inspired to break down and learn about all of its parts.

The sheer immensity and vastness of scope of these stories can, at first glance, seem overwhelming. Parents are sometimes surprised that quite lofty concepts and ideas – whether they be in the areas of taxonomy or astronomy – are presented to children at such a young age. However, children in the Elementary plane are singularly interested in aspects of Culture, whether they be in the sciences, arts or other studies. In no other time in human development will one be so inclined to ask and want to learn “why?” Why did the dinosaurs become extinct? Why don’t planets collide into one another? Why did people invent kimonos? As such, why not connect the children to vast amounts of information when they are most interested?

Because Great Lessons are so broad, they act as a way to tie together so many different subject areas. They offer the children a mind-opening and inspiring glimpse into the infinite world of knowledge that lies before them.


As part of their study of the Five Kingdoms, students record their hypotheses for a botany experiment.

Throughout October and in the beginning of November, we focused on the Story of Life and the Coming of Humans. We learned about the many forms of life that developed on our planet before humans even appeared. In the process, we learned about the Five Kingdoms of Life, the Animal Kingdom and the Plant Kingdom. We applied descriptive writing skills to record observations and form hypotheses about living things, and used our imaginations to create myths about extinct creatures.

We then learned about the Coming of Humans. We discussed the importance of fire to prehistoric humans, and then further explored the development of human civilization by learning about the Fundamental Needs of Humans. This lesson helped determine human needs from human “wants,” and we explored this in class through an exciting “survival game.” In this game, the class was divided into three groups and were asked to imagine that they would be stranded on a remote desert island. They then had to decide as a group which three things they would need to bring with them on their island in order to survive. This led to a great discussion on what things humans truly NEED. In the process, the children had to exercise life skills like teamwork, listening and speaking.


November-December Lesson Themes – Please CLICK HERE for this month’s lesson themes.

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