The elementary child is highly social, curious, imaginative and eager to explore their world. The philosophy of, “Cosmic Education”, was developed by Dr. Maria Montessori and her son Mario Montessori to meet the social and intellectual needs of this age child. Cosmic Education seeks to provide a framework within which the elementary student can answer the questions “Who am I?” and “How do I fit?” Within this framework the student also comes to understand the interrelatedness of all living things and to study the concept of Humanity.
An integrated curriculum of history geography and science is the backbone of Cosmic Education in the elementary classroom. This integrated curriculum is presented through the Great Lessons developed by Dr. Montessori. She believed that it was from these five great lessons that the rest of the elementary curriculum expands. Through attention to the Great Lessons, students are presented with the “Big Picture” which in turn provides a context within which they can organize all that they are learning. These lessons are presented in a dramatic story form in order to inspire students to further study.
The Five Great Lessons
Coming of Earth
This lesson introduces the child to all the sciences. The concepts of physical geography are studied as the child explores how the Earth was formed and its physical features.
Life and its Beginnings
This lesson introduces and inspires further studies in botany, zoology and ecology. Students are shown the defining parts of living organisms and are given tools for identification and classification. They are encouraged to discover the interdependence of life and our role as humans to be stewards of our environment.
The Story of Humans
The emphasis of this introductory lesson is human history and the study of civilizations. Through research of human endeavors throughout time, the child explores and discovers the inventiveness of the human mind and the need for a mutually beneficial society. Emphasis is also given to identifying the basic needs of humans and how those are fulfilled within a civilization.
The Story of Communication
This lesson tells the story of spoken and written communication. It revolves around lessons on word study, parts of speech, sentence analysis and syntax, which provide a foundation in Grammar. There are also further studies in Expressive Language which include spelling, punctuation and writing. Great Literature from our own language and those of other cultures are also explored, so that the child may encounter similar themes that permeate the whole human experience.
The Story of Numbers
This lesson introduces the child to the history of number systems and other mathematical discoveries. Still working with the Montessori math materials, the child refines their skills and concepts of the four basic operations working with whole numbers, decimals, fractions etc. Geometry lessons focus on acquiring knowledge of geometric shapes, and their equivalences and relationships. This leads to further abstraction of concepts of area and volume. All math lessons are given in such a way that the child may arrive at the point of discovering the formula rather than being given the formula to arrive at the answer.
These “Five Great Lessons”, provide a framework for intellectual and social exploration and demonstrate the connectedness and purposeful work of all life throughout history. The Lessons are a starting point for deeper investigations and promote a research based curriculum method that encourages each child to develop the life skills of; selecting a topic of interest, organizing of time and materials for research, presentation of findings both written and oratory, self evaluation, and projection of ideas for further study. In keeping with brain development they move from the concrete manipulation of related materials to the abstraction of concepts and the acquisition of skills. These lessons give the child a vision of the whole universe and the possibility for him/her in its cosmic plan.
The elementary student’s thirst for the, Who, What, Where, How and Why, take them outside the classroom environment giving them responsibility to become stewards of the earth and good citizens. Their community meetings become a forum for sharing knowledge and experience and for democratic problem solving and goal setting. An atmosphere of collaborative engagement allows students to contribute talents and skills while expanding their interests.
Suggested readings about Montessori’s Cosmic Education
Cosmic Education in the Montessori Elementary Classroom by Micheal & D’Neil Duffy
To Educate the Human Potential by Maria Montessori