Connecting Our Children with the Universe

…the fundamental principle in education is correlation of all subjects,

and their centralisation in the cosmic plan.”

– Dr. Maria Montessori, “To Educate the Human Potential”

As Montessori educators, our goal is to guide the children towards taking what they are learning about and discovering how it relates to other phenomena and how it fits into the context of a unified whole. We achieve this by following the principles and curriculum of what Maria Montessori called Cosmic Education. She said:

“Let us give the child a vision of the whole universe… for all things are connected with each other to form one whole unity.”

And why wouldn’t you want to present the whole universe to children who are at an age when their imaginations are soaring and their capacities for reasoning and thinking abstractly are developing rapidly, allowing them, in their minds, to travel beyond the borders of here and now?

Consider the analogy of a painting to illustrate this “big picture approach”. A big picture is painted with Great Lessons such as “The Story of Writing and Communication” and “The Story of the Coming of Life on Earth, which pique the curiosity of the children and organically inspires them to move in for a closer examination of the individual brush strokes of which the big picture is comprised.

Within the context of this “vision of the whole universe”, everything the child learns is connected. Children can use this big picture perspective to mentally organize new information. When understood as connected parts of a whole, the information gains relevance.

If you want to deliver integration in education to foster this type of connective thinking, the traditional route of compartmentalizing curriculum areas and erecting clear divisions between the subjects is not the way to go. In the Montessori Elementary curriculum, all subjects – Math, Language, Art, Geography, History, Science – are intertwined and integrated. We take a concept and present it in the context of as many curriculum areas as possible and then give the children the freedom to explore it further to satisfy their curiosity and see where it takes them.

Take the example of time as represented in this photo of a clock. Children in Lower Elementary are learning to tell time. The image illustrates only some of the many different skills and paths of inquiry tied into the idea of time that can lead a child to make connections in an integrated curriculum. Learning about time can lead to a discussion about day and night caused by the rotation of the earth on its axis, sundials in ancient Egypt, fractions, angles, world time zones, or an explorations of the contemplation and representation of time in poetry and art.

Who knew so many roads to discovery could emerge from this plain old analog clock? And who knew so many roads to discovery could emerge from mangroves? Maria Montessori did, and our recent unit study about mangroves in the LEU classroom has provided us with a wonderful example of integration in action in Montessori education. The parents who visited the classroom last Thursday likely noted that the fabulous mangrove projects made by the children covered a wide variety of subject area, from mangrove-based Geometry and Science experiments to mangrove-inspired artwork and haikus. The diversity of what they accomplished was a product of their imagination and collaboration, and the fruit of freedom and integration in Montessori education.

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