Monday, September 2, 2013

Contemplating the Great Lessons

The Great Lessons are what elementary Montessori all revolves around. Maria Montessori called it Cosmic Education. The child is given the world in the big picture and then it is broken down into details over time. Maria Montessori believed that young children can understand very big ideas such as how our universe came into existence and how humans changed over time. Now, I know some people might be thinking that this goes against many religions. While that is not a concern with our religion, I would like to point out that Maria Montessori was quite religious. She also allowed quite a bit of room in her Great Lessons for adjusting them to work with any religion. You do not have to follow them exactly as written, nor do you have to follow the same timelines listed. For us, her Great Lessons align very well with our beliefs so we will give them as they were originally written. Now, when I say originally written, I am speaking about manuals written by Montessori trained guides.

Great Lesson One: The Beginning
The origins of the universe, which is basically the Big Bang Theory. It starts with nothing and continues with the creation of the planets and stars. It goes into geology, geography, physics, chemistry, and astronomy.

Great Lesson Two: The Timeline of Life
This lesson starts with the display of the Timeline of Life, which ends the appearance of humans. There is so much information in this lesson that leads to work on dinosaurs, classifying the animal kingdom, so much in biology and zoology.

Great Lesson Three: The Coming of Humans
This lesson starts where the second Great lesson leaves off, at the appearance of humans. You then travel through time as humans evolve into modern times. There is a timeline for humans used in this lesson. It also goes into early tools. Rich in history and biology

Great Lesson Four: The History of Writing
The fourth Great Lesson starts with early primitive writing, like cave paintings and moves on to writing in modern times. History and languages along with penmanship can all be explored with this lesson.

Great Lesson Five: The History of Mathematics
Similar to the history of writing, the history of Mathematics starts with early times and explores how the human mind has evolved and how groups worked together to develop a system of numbers. History and mathematics are explored.

While any Elementary Montessori manuals should include the Great Lessons, I love having everything put together in one place with lots of resources. My favorite site for this is it has so much info including the entire text for each lesson.

Now that I have put out that information, I'd like to share our current position in Cosmic Education. We started elementary last year and I struggled with the Great Lessons. We did the first Great Lesson and it went great. We then spend a month and a half exploring geology and astronomy. My son loves science and geology has always been one of his favorites. We visited museums, planetariums, read books, watch documentaries, and did projects.

We had a great time with the first great lesson, but we got lost with the second. When we didn't have a Timeline of Life, we were lost. Honestly, there are some things about the Great Lessons that cause me stress. My biggest problem is the problem finding the materials needed to do the lessons. The Timeline of Life costs about $200 to purchase from discount Montessori suppliers. Now I understand that Montessori materials are expensive, but I do not understand why a long sheet of paper with illustrations costs $200. There is usually a blank version and matching cards included, but it still seems extremely overpriced for what you are buying. I thought about making my own timeline and that might be the way to go but I am not an artist so it will be difficult if we go that route. I have also been having the same issues with all of the charts involved in the Great Lessons. There are so many charts and it can be hard to find pictures of them to copy. I have the Montessori R&D manuals and they have some charts but they are quite small and not very clear. It really has made it very hard to continue with the lessons when I can't make my own materials and the cost to purchase is so high.

If you would like a free printable Timeline of life (which I will probably be using this year) you can find one at Discovery Moments. Thank you Stephanie!

The next charts and timelines I will continue to search for so that I can make my own. I would love help, please leave info in the comments if you can help me find these resources.

Some pictures from last year's exploration of the first Great Lesson.

A trip to a museum where we learned about rocks, minerals, gemstones, meteorites, fossils and even panned for gold/gems.

Our volcano demonstration

We made the layers of the earth with homemade playdough

This is a homemade meteorite lesson. We first made a rubber bouncy ball with a kit that was given to us. It uses little crystals that you dissolve in water and then pour into a mold and let harden. Then we put regular flour into a bowl and my son dropped the ball (meteorite) from various distances and made craters. He also used a ruler to measure how deep the craters were and compared them to the distance where he dropped the ball from.  This has been his favorite lesson ever! It has been on our science shelf ever since. I do require this to be done outside as it gets very messy.

We plan to start the Great lessons this month and hopefully I can find the resources I need to prepare.