The Great Lessons of the Elementary Montessori classroom are essential. They are part of the backbone of the elementary curriculum, Cosmic Education. They go along with several key lessons or key experiences which get the children interested in doing their own research and understanding the abstract rather than concrete.
The First Great Lesson is known by several names "The Coming of the Universe," "The Beginning" and "God with No Hands". It is basically the Big Bang story starting from nothing, continuing into the creation of our sun, solar system, planets and into formation of the earth. It ends when the earth is ready for life to arrive, and that is where the second Great Lesson begins.
For this First Great Lesson there are impressionistic charts which are shown during the presentation. They give a visual example of what the story is describing but they are abstract rather than concrete. These charts are often confusing when reading manuals because sometimes they are not shown, sometimes they aren't even described and just given as chart numbers. There are some albums that give pictures but they are often black and white outlines and often too small to really see well. I use the Montessori R&D Manuals and they only show very small, black and white outlines of the charts. I wanted something beautiful. I decided to make my own charts because I felt like they were not that difficult and this is what most Montessori teachers do when they do their training. There are places you can buy them if you don't feel up to making them, I will share a link at the end of this post.
Once I decided to make the charts I had to decide on a medium. My first thought was poster board since it seems easy to work with and easy to obtain. My worry with this was that its not very durable. I would have to somehow store these charts and use them for many years without them getting torn or folded. Once you roll poster board it is very hard to ever get it to lay flat again. These charts will be used each year in the elementary classroom which is 6 years. My son is in his second year which is 5 years for him but then 6 years for my daughter and only one of those years will overlap. Plus the children should be able to look at the charts whenever they want so it could be a lot of use. I decided that poster board just wouldn't hold up and I would be making new charts every couple of years if I went that route. Instead I decided to use fabric. Fabric is easy to paint on, rolls nicely and will lay flat when unrolled. It is very durable, it won't tear or bend and the paint won't fade like markers and colored pencils sometimes do. I bought some white canvas, taped the edges (I don't sew) and painted the pictures with acrylic paints. I am not a painter so these were not very easy, but they weren't terribly difficult either. I looked at a few examples online and drew them freehand. It took me about an hour for each of the more intricate charts and maybe a half hour for the sun/earth chart including all my prep time. These charts are approximately 30"x22".
Chart 1. The Earth's size compared to the Sun
Chart 2. The Dance of the Elements
Chart 3. The Time of Volcanos
Chart 4. Beautiful Earth
There is also a chart that shows the planets in our solar system but I decided not to make it. It seems to have been removed from the main story and used for follow up work instead. Plus there are so many of these charts out there that its not hard to find. We have several of these in our home already that will be used when needed.
I would like to thank several websites for their help in my chart creation. I used these resources to find lovely drawings and colors for the charts that I made. If you would like to make your own charts and would like to see more examples please click on these links and visit them, they also have great descriptions for the lessons as well.
Montessori Services has a nice set of charts you can buy. They have beautiful colors and are on fabric as well. I used these for my main inspiration for the coloring in my charts.
Montessori Services does not show you all of their charts on the website. One of my favorite blogs What Did We Do All Day? Has shared each one of these charts with us. This is where I referenced the charts when I was doing my paintings.
Montessori Teachers Collective has a wonderful article about the First Great Lesson. The charts are shown but they are small black and white outlines. They are nice for reference if you just want outlines. They also have experiments and the story on this page
Montessori Trails is a great blog for elementary Montessori homeschooling. She doesn't show all of the charts but her chart for The Dance of the Elements is lovely and easier to draw freehand than the one from Montessori Services. She also has lots of info on the Great Lesson on this page.