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)


Parent Education

Parent education is a vital part of a schools work. It benefits the child, the school community and Montessori education in general.

There are many layers that we have to touch upon.

There’s the understanding of child development and how it relates to the physical and psychological aspects of the child’s environment. Then there’s the whole curriculum side of things and how that connects to the characteristics of the child it seeks to serve. The shallow, popular notions of child rearing that an irresponsible media constantly bombards parents with serves to add fuzz, and another layer that we have to reckon with.

In the past we have had book readings and a silent journey of discovery. We have paid home visits and care is taken that very individual meeting with a parent touches upon these points. We also regularly send out articles and have a parent library at school.

The times when I feel we have been most successful in our efforts is when there are opportunities for the parents to actually ‘work’ with their hands.

Recently we had an orientation for the parents of our elementary children. We focused on ‘Cosmic Education’

Cosmic Education is an all-inclusive six-year curriculum for elementary age children.

It demonstrates the interconnection and interdependence of all things, both animate and inanimate and relates all academic subjects to each other.

Most importantly it answers the questions typically asked by elementary age children and places the child’s primary orientation to life, firmly in the universe.

How do you make apparent so many nuances?

Therein lies the beauty of Montessori. All of it has been made so concrete and accessible.

We started the session by briefly talking about the characteristics of the 6 to 12 year old child.

We then related 2 of the 5 great lessons that elementary children receive.

First was The Story of the Universe. It is about how our universe came into existance, the formation of stars and planets, ending with the formation of our very own earth.

Next up was The Coming of Life . It starts off from where we left off in The Story of the Universe, and charts the evolution of life on earth.

After the Great lessons, we moved into 3 groups and the parents received small group lessons. They then did an hour of follow up work, just like our children do in class.

One group got a story about an animal – the sponge. It was the very same story we give the children, full of the ‘strangeness’ of the sponge.

examining picture cards to arrive at common characteristics of sponges

clay model of a colony of sponges

referencing the sponge

Another group received a story about the life and death of stars. Besides the sequence of the life cycle of a star, the amazing fact that we are all star stuff  was highlighted in the story.

testing elements forged in the bellies of dying stars

referencing supernovas

referencing stars

The third group received a presentation with 3D Solids. They ran the shapes in sand to find the paths made by the different faces. They then traced these paths to make nets for the solids. After that they moved onto platonic solids.

tracing the paths of 3D solids

collaborating to make a dodecahedron while sitting under an icosahedron

making a dodecahedron out of paper

After this work, we gathered in a group and shared our experiences.

We laid out labels with the names of different subject areas.

Each time a parent saw a connection between two areas, we connected them with yarn.

building a web of connections

We ended by revisiting the characteristics of the elementary child and asking the question “Did the curriculum serve these characteristics?”

The parents left with the article ‘Montessori Community Values: Sowing the Seeds of Morality’ by Greg MacDonald.

All in all it was a good session. I know that we have to build on what we’ve laid here, but like they say, “little drops of water make the mighty ocean!”

The Key

work by Tom Lantane

I have been reading a lot about schedules in the Montessori elementary environment. Children given work plans for the day or week, to ensure that all areas are covered, especially in literacy and mathematics.

Nowhere in Montessori’s words have I encountered this recommendation.

I understand the tremendous pressure exerted by society that we direct, teach and quantify, but we work for bigger and better things. Our hope is that our children find their ‘key’ which they can use for the rest of their lives.

The key is always within reach in our environments. It is acquired slowly, by living in a community and engaging in self-chosen work. To acquire the key, the child needs to be left free.

It makes me think of all the little glimpses of connections that I have seen the children make this week. Many-a-time unconsciously with the youngest elementary child.

A child who is in the ‘romance’ period for mathematics, is mesmerized by numbers – the larger, the better.

For months now, he has stayed away from culture. He has received the presentations with interest, but has done little or no follow up work with them.

Then, quite out of the blue, he got the dinosaur cards from the shelf. Related them to the Mesozoic era folders we have in the environment and started exploring their weights and sizes. True to the characteristics of the elementary child, he kept making comparisons with the numbers, “I am the same weight as the Velociraptor”. For three day he worked on this – He measured the dinosaurs out in string, he drew them, he classified them.

via the Great Cretaceous Walk

Upon finishing, I was curious to see how his transition would go. I observed him sitting near his locker for a while. I was called away and when I came back I saw him with the reptile characteristic cards (Chinese boxes), a material that helps with the basics of zoology classification. He worked with this for a day.

The next day, he came in and went straight to the library for books on snakes. Again, the next three days he worked on nothing but snakes.

19th Century Ink and Watercolour

One experience led to the seeking of another.

I wonder if this free flow would have been possible if he had been given a daily plan.

The thread weaving these experiences is very visible in the anecdote I have just shared.

The love of numbers saw the boy explore dinosaurs. While exploring them, reptiles in general called to him, for dinosaurs are after all, reptiles.

He went from a small detail to a bigger picture.

While working on reptiles, just one type, snakes, caught his attention. Some were l-o-n-g and it is their lengths that spurred him into work.

From the bigger picture of reptiles, he came back to a detail!

In other cases the thread might be hazy, making it difficult for us to ‘see’ what is being connected.

It makes me think of some of the children that I have worked with – Children who had not yet started self-directing when they came into the elementary environment. They have taken such different routes to acquiring the skills for self-direction.

Today, these same children express joy at work, choose ever increasing levels of challenge for themselves and are frequently called upon to help others.

Had we lost faith in the child and directed their day, I wonder if the children would have found their ‘key’.

“If education is always to be conceived along the same antiquated lines of a mere transmission of knowledge, there is little to be hoped from it in the bettering of man’s future. For what is the use of transmitting knowledge if the individual’s total development lags behind?” ~ Dr. Maria Montessori

parallel play

After a lesson on making shades with paint, the child was engrossed for the next 2 days…painstakingly adding measured drops of black paint to carefully counted pools of the base colour…going from the lightest of greens to a dark, dark green, from the palest of blues to a prussian.

Colour Tablets via NAMC Montessori Teacher Training Blog

In the afternoon, the child received a lesson on compound words. Two words come together and from them grows a ‘new’ word …’pin’ + ‘wheel’ = pinwheel

Pin Wheel via Runner Duck

The next day we sat together sharing stories, thoughts, observations. The child was pensive and said, “I learnt that you don’t need to work with words to make things ‘compound’, you can do that with paint’.

In wikipedia, lateral thinking is defined as “Lateral thinking is more concerned with the movement value of statements and ideas. A person would use lateral thinking when they want to move from one known idea to creating new ideas.”


After a story on the evolution of cells, the lower elementary children were enamoured with all things bacterial and cellular.

The coming together of bacteria to make a cell really touched their imaginations.

They enacted the evolution of the cell, they drew pictures, made models, wrote reports …

When 2 children found an amicable solution to a problem, requiring both of them to be accommodating, a third child who had observed this, commented as he passed by, “you have co-operated just like the bacteria who came together and made the cell”

That afternoon as we sat outdoors for lunch, one of the boy rested against a flower pot. He was asked to move by a few children who he ignored, until, one of his friends anxiously said, “V please move, you are hurting the plant cells!”

He shot up and changed his seat to a less intrusive spot.

Thyme-moss under a light microscope via fybiology

So, I present to you a teeny-tiny glimpse of cosmic education at work.

Living and working in a Montessori environment, our children have the light in their eyes and hearts, shining bright.

“Let us give the child a vision of the whole universe. . . for all things are part of the universe, and are connected with each other to form one whole unity.” ~ Dr. Maria Montessori (To Educate the Human Potential)