Cosmic Learning and the Great Lessons

Third-year students demonstrate a part of the first Great Lesson to a Casa class.

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

Demonstrating the settling of particles in the first Great Lesson.

The Montessori Lower Elementary curriculum is uniquely structured to facilitate connective thinking. The curriculum itself 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, as well as the five Great Lessons. These comprehensive, impressionistic stories about the development of the universe, life and human civilization present an all-encompassing backdrop by which to frame all learning.

Showing the formation of galaxies during the first Great Lesson.

The sheer vastness of scope of these stories can at first seem overwhelming. However, children in the Elementary plane are uniquely 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 calendars? As such, why not connect the children to vast amounts of information when they are most interested?

Excited discussion about what humans need to survive and thrive.

Throughout October and in the beginning of November, we have 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.

Which ones do we truly NEED?

We then learned about the Coming of Humans and their Fundamental Needs. The latter 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 very active discussion on what things we truly NEED, and those things that we just WANT.

Demonstrating a drum kit made out of recycled items.

Our study of human life and civilization dovetails naturally with our efforts as a classroom to cultivate seeds of empathy and philanthropy. This term, we are aiming to raise awareness and funds for children in need by creating musical instruments out of recycled “junk” for a mini-charity-concert. This classroom project was inspired by this amazing video featuring the Landfill Harmonic Orchestra, a brilliant initiative in Paraguay that brings the gift of music to underprivileged youth. The children and their families have eagerly put effort and time into creating some wonderful recycled musical instruments. Some students are just putting some finishing touches on their instruments in class, and we look forward to performing for our families towards the end of the term! Any proceeds from the mini-concert will be donated to the Landfill Harmonic Orchestra.

Montessori believed that the purpose of education was to enable a child to discover his or her purpose in life and in the universe. This lofty aim is clearly reflected in the vast scope and inter-disciplinary approach of Montessori’s cosmic curriculum.


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

Happy Hallowe’en! – We made the most of Hallowe’en by engaging the children in thematic experiments and traditional baking. Older students really enjoyed exploring the concept of friction and static electricity by using balloons to make tissue-paper ghosts “fly.” Younger children loved making and baking their own pumpkin pies! Of course, they also relished being able to come to school is full costume!

In full costume for Hallowe’en!

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