Cosmic Education – nourishment for a lifetime

touching-the-universe

I recently gave the first great lesson – the story of the universe to the elementary children. This is a period of great excitement, questions and ponderings for the children and well, for me too.  I am always especially excited for the children who are hearing this epic tale for the first time. An entire universe is unlocked and ready for their explorations.

The entire Montessori ‘curriculum’ during the elementary years is dubbed as ‘Cosmic Education’. Cosmic Education connects all players in the Cosmic Drama, both animate, as well as inanimate. It is an opportunity for the child to unify themselves with the very cosmos!

Lofty ideals these, but Montessori is ALL about lofty ideals. The primary aged child has the gift of developing a ‘unified self’, the elementary aged child has the gift of ‘unifying with the cosmos’ and the adolescent, ‘unifying with ones fellow beings’.

Each and every year I see these stupendous ideals fleshed out into practical experiences that guide the children on their path.

This year, soon after I presented the story of the universe to the children I saw the movie ‘Agora‘. It’s the fictionalised story of the life of Hypatia– the Alexandrian mathematician and philosopher who lived during the 4th century CE. Living through times of religious strife, Hypatia managed to hold on to her beliefs and till the very end dedicate her life to probing the secrets of the universe. At a time when the mere thought that the workings of the cosmos was anything less of pure perfection was considered heresy, Hypatia anticipated that the earth went around the sun in an elliptical orbit. Now an ellipse was considered an ‘impure’ shape – a base figure as compared to the ‘perfect’ circle, where the centre is constantly equidistant from its diameter. Hypatia was a woman far beyond her times.

While viewing the movie (which had it’s good and bad points, but this is not a film review) I couldn’t help but see a parallel between Hypatia and the elementary child. Both probe the secrets of the cosmos and ‘touch’ it with their gift of imagination, are sensitive to issues of fairness, cannot help but ask BIG, philosophical questions and attempt to find answers guided by their reasoning mind.

I often meet adults who have completely lost touch with the child they once were. Philosophical questions, the awesomeness of the universe and all the many splendours out there, leave them unmoved while they plod along life’s path miserable in their day-to-day existence.

My hope is that children who have received cosmic education will, no matter how old they get, always have the child they once were alive in them. No matter what difficulties life throws in their path, and there surely will be many challenges, they will never cease to feel wonder at this truly majestic universe that we inhabit, never cease to ask questions bigger than themselves and never fear to look for answers.

In short, my hope is that the Cosmic Education they receive will last them a lifetime.

“Cosmic Education is intended to help each of us search for our cosmic task as a species and as individuals. To do this, we must understand ourselves in context. It is only against the background of our place in the universe, our relationships with other living organisms, and our understanding of human unity within cultural diversity, that we can attempt to answer the question, ‘Who am I?’”

~ Micheal Duffy and D’Neil Duffy – Cosmic Education – Children of the Universe

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

~ William Blake

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Story of the Universe – Part 2

Following on from my previous post, here is another project completed by one of the children after the Story of the Universe – a stitchery book depicting the birth of the universe and formation of earth.

I wanted to share this work with you as its such a wonderful marriage of handwork, an impressionistic lesson and science.  It reads a little like a fairy tale.

Though I am sharing the ‘product’ here, it is the process through those days that was truly beautiful.

It required a lot of planning and perseverance from the boy. For 9 1/2 days he sat with the sewing box,creating page after page in deep concentration. He applied his previous learning and noticed the refinement of his skills over the days. By the time he had reached the last page in his book, he required no help and even ‘created’ his own weaving stitch. He realized his own independence and commented on it several times. It was self-direction at its strongest.

Apologies for the quality of the photographs, but they were taken on my phone, just before the boy borrowed the book from the library to show his folks at home.

UNIVERSE HISTORY BOOK

First there was NOTHING!

But a tiny point of pure energy that contained the entire universe.

Suddenly the dot of pure energy exploded and out came the universe

The energy cooled down to make tiny particles of matter

After 300,000 years the first atoms – atoms of Hydrogen gas were formed. Clouds of hydrogen swam in space.

Hydrogen and dust pulled together because of gravity to make stars

Earth was formed. It was really hot and it was a ball of gas

1000’s of volcanoes erupted on earth and covered earth in a big cloud of gas, dust and ash

Sun is covered and the earth cooled down

Earth is flooded by rain

Earth gets water. Now there are solids, liquids and gases on earth. The sun is uncovered

Story Of The Universe

We are a month into the new academic year and the children who have recently joined our elementary environment have received their first great lesson – THE STORY OF THE UNIVERSE. The story is accompanied by many experiments, including a show stopper – blasting a volcano! This year around, we used ammonium di chromate in the volcano for some real BANG, instead of the tame baking powder and vinegar routine. Needless to say it was all very exciting.

Along with the younger children, the older children too had the benefit of receiving the story again and like every year, it has sparked off great work!

Today, one of the many projects undertaken by the children after the telling of the story was completed.

After reading the awe inspiring book, ‘Born With A Bang – The Universe Tells Our Cosmic Story‘ by Jennifer Morgan and Dana Lynne Anderson, two boys decided to make a timeline depicting some of the major events in the Universe’s history.  There is a concise page at the back of the book that lists some of these major events and was just the right morsel for the boys.

Here is the long and short of their timeline.

They did some finger knitting and converted its length into a timeline. Each foot on the length of their finger knitting accounted for 1 billion years.

The timeline in our library corner, above the light box. Below is the much loved volcano. The timeline goes all along the wall ….

… and wraps around …

… to the other side …

A brass bell signals each major event. With it is a card that explains what happened at that point in time. The first two events are so close together that they have been strung one on top of the other – but – true to the need for precision that characterizes the elementary child, they are just ever – so – slightly, askew.


BIG BANG – less than 1 second old – In a fraction of a second the universe went from the size of a dot to the size of a galaxy …1 second to 3 minutes – the universe cooled down to 3,000 degrees and that was enough for the neutrons and protons to form …300,000 years after the Big bang it cooled down enough for the first atoms to form. The first atoms were of Helium and Hydrogen … 

1 billion years after the Big Bang galaxies formed. Mother stars were born. After stars die their stardust makes new stars that have complicated elements …

2 billion years after the Big Bang the Milky Way formed. Older star clusters joined new star clusters

7 billion years after the Big Bang our mother star might have exploded. There might have been more than one mother star that might have created our solar system …

8 billion years after the Big Bang our sun formed from clouds of gas and dust which came from a supernova of our mother star. Gravity made the clouds squeeze together. Atoms of Hydrogen joined to make Helium. This made the cloud shine. It was now a star…

8 1/2 billion years after the Big Bang the planets formed. One planet was perfect – not too hot, not too cold.

For the sake of convenience the timeline has now moved to a new location – above the science material.

“let us give him a vision of the whole universe. The universe is an imposing reality and an answer to all questions. We shall walk together on this path of life, for all things are part of the universe and are connected with each other to form one whole unity.” ~ Maria Montessori (To Educate The Human Potential)

Give Me A Presentation

Last evening I met a little girl who use to come to our school.

She was with us for one short year in the elementary and now goes to a mainstream ‘chalk and talk’ school.

She has adjusted well, made friends and is doing fine in class.

After the customary greetings of a 6 and half year old which include,  pointing out all missing teeth and information about tooth fairies, she asked, “Please can you give me a presentation on the stars? Now? Please!”

We were in the middle of a busy restaurant and Miss K wanted a presentation on the stars!

Star Gazing

A few nights ago some of us in the elementary had a star gazing session at school.

We left school at the usual time of 3:00pm, but met again after sun down at 6:00pm. The approaching darkness while being at school was terribly exciting for the children.

We started our evening with Tchaikovsky’s nutcracker ballet playing in the background and 14 little hands peeling, cutting and grating, making a yummy winter vegetable soup for our supper. (recipe at the end of this post)

Once soup was ready we made our way to our neighbours terrace, who had graciously offered his view of the night skies, for the evening.

One of our parents had brought along his telescope and we held our breath as we saw Jupiter and four of her moons- Io, Callisto, Ganymede and Europa. We then saw the Orion nebula. Our heads spun with the realization that we were seeing, close up, the cloud that was birthing new stars!

Jupiter and her Moons

We returned to school to the warmth of fresh bread and delicious soup. Though we have many fussy eaters, our soup bowls were empty, with every scrap of vegetable consumed!

Bellies full, we went on a night walk on little cats feet.  We played for a while and enjoyed the falling night. We noticed that Orion had risen further!

It started getting chilly and time to get indoors. The next thing came as a real surprise to us adults, all the children started working!!!

Looking at a star map

One child said as he was leaving, “Today, has been the best day, ever!”

 

HEALTHY WINTER VEGGIE SOUP

Ingredients

3 tablespoons butter

4 – 5 small onions, thinly sliced into semi-circles

5 – 6 cloves of garlic, sliced

4 red, ‘Delhi’ carrots – cut into sticks

4 potatoes, cut into chunks

3 sweet potatoes, cut into chunks

2 packets button mushrooms, sliced

2 chicken stock cubes

3 tablespoons tomato puree

cheese to serve – grated

Method

Heat the butter on a low flame

Toss in the onions and garlic and saute for a few minutes.

Add the potatoes and coat with butter.

Add the rest of the veggies.

Cover all the veggies with water.

Dissolve the stock cubes in a cup of warm water and pour into the pot.

Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and cook till all the veggies are tender.

ENJOY!