The First Great Lesson: An Insider’s Look

For the first Crest and Current of the school year, we decided it would be the perfect time to give parents an insider’s look into the First Great Lesson: The Coming of the Universe. It tells the story of how scientists believe the universe was born and the Earth created, and it is always presented in our Lower Elementary classrooms within the first couple weeks of school.

The lesson is lengthy and venerable and thus presented to the children over the course of three mornings. It covers the “big bang” theory and the formation of stars, the solar system, and planet Earth. It explains the states of matter and some of the fundamental laws of the universe that particles must follow. This year, we recorded all three parts and have provided links to the videos to give you the opportunity to see this Great Lesson through the eyes of the children.  

There are five Great Lessons:  

  1. The Coming of the Universe 
  1. The Coming of Life 
  1. The Coming of Humans 
  1. The Story of Writing and Communication 
  1. The Story of Numbers 

Maria Montessori designed the Great lessons as an introduction to all topics. They serve as the anchors and springboards of Cosmic education, a curriculum that she created to meet the developmental needs of Elementary-age children which focuses on the interconnectedness of all phenomena in the universe.  

In the Casa environment (3-6 years old) children are introduced first to “small” ideas that gradually come together to help them build an understanding of larger concepts. By contrast, the Elementary children – with their imaginations soaring across time and space and their blossoming capacity for abstract thinking – are ready to be introduced immediately to large concepts such as the beginning of the universe. Then they can move on to explore the smaller ideas and gain an understanding of how each fits into the larger conceptual framework.  

The Five Great Lessons embody this type of “big picture” learning to which the Elementary child is perfectly suited, and they provide the frameworks for them to use as they mentally organize new information. Everything the child learns is connected, and when understood as connected parts of a whole, information gains relevance. The Great Lessons are bold and exciting, and they incorporate storytelling, artifacts, and science experiments. Via the lessons, “the child should be struck with the wonder of creation, thrilled with new ideas, and awed by the inventiveness and innovation that is part of the human spirit.”  

The “big picture” each lesson paints captures the child’s imagination and awakens their curiosity, inspiring them to move in closer to examine its individual brushstrokes. The First Great Lesson alone sets the stage and opens doors to the study of: 

  • Astronomy: solar system, stars, galaxies, comets, constellations. 
  • Meteorology: wind, currents, weather, fronts, erosion, water cycle, clouds, glaciers. 
  • Chemistry: states of matter, changes, mixtures, reactions, elements, atoms, periodic table, compounds, molecules, chemical formulas, equations, lab work, experimentation. 
  • Physics: magnetism, electricity, gravity, energy, light, sound, heat, friction, motion, experimentation. 
  • Geology: types of rocks, minerals, landforms, volcanoes, earthquakes, plate tectonics, ice ages, eras of the earth 
  • Geography: maps, globes, latitude/longitude, climates, land/water form names, continent, and country research. 

When speaking about education at the Elementary level, Maria Montessori 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”. With the First Great Lesson now complete, we have taken the first big step toward creating this vision. So many paths of learning have opened ahead, and we can’t wait to see which the children will choose to travel down!  

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