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

BOOKS WE LOVE – PART 2

Here are some books loved by our older children aged 5 1/2 years to 9 years. This is certainly not a definitive list, but some random pickings from the ones that the children seem to go back to time and again.

If like me, you enjoy reading ‘children’s’ books, these are delightful. Like CS Lewis said, “No book is really worth reading at age 10 which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at age 50”

Is-a-Blue-Whale-the-Biggest-Thing-There-Is-Wells-Robert-E-9780606142373

IS THE BLUE WHALE THE BIGGEST THING THERE IS ? by ROBERT.E.WELLS

Just when you think of the Blue Whale as BIG, the book takes you on a journey from BIG to STUPENDOUS …  Mount Everest, Earth, our Sun, to Antares – a red giant star, the Milky Way, right to the size of the universe itself. All are depicted as relative sizes and children are absolutely fascinated by the book.

This book is perfect for elementary aged children who are making sense of their world, and indeed the universe, through their imagination. Imagination for the elementary child is akin to touch for the younger, primary child. They want to know about everything that they cannot see but still need concrete clues as aids to their imagination.

The other two books in this series that the children love are:

pygmy

HOW SMALL IS THE PYGMY SHREW?

Takes the reader from a pygmy shrew, to the ladybug, to drops of water, to the protists living in those drops of water, all the way to the parts of an atom. Going from small to tiny to miniscule appeals to the elementary childs imagination.

can_you_count_to_a_google

CAN YOU COUNT TO A GOOGOOL?

Anyone who has worked with an elementary aged child knows that they are enamoured by big numbers. This book gives children an understanding of just how big, the big numbers they like to throw around actually are.

dragons

ERIC CARLE’S DRAGONS DRAGONS AND OTHER CREATURES THAT NEVER WERE by ERIC CARLE

The elementary children LOVE mythology and poetry. Dragons Dragons has both! It is a collection of poems of mythological creatures that features fantastical beasts from all parts of the world – from the Phoenix to the Yeti and the Garuda. The children seem to instinctively know that the book isn’t talking ‘down’ to them and has no flashy, cutesy enticements. It is what it is – excellent poetry, great visuals and a world of fantasy.

ABC3dABC 3D

Pop-Up books have a special place in the hearts of children and this one runs away with the prize. It is intelligent, witty and simply delightful.

I don’t know how to embed a video yet, so follow the link below to see the book in action.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wnZr0wiG1Hg

Sidewalk

WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS by SHEL SILVERSTEIN

Quirky, funny poetry – just up the elementary child’s alley.

totochan

TOTO CHAN – THE LITTLE GIRL IN THE WINDOW by TETSUKO KORONYAGI

Toto Chan’s classroom is a discarded train boogie! Toto Chan herself is whimsical and quirky and children relate to her instantly. They find many similarities between Toto Chan’s school and ours and are always ready for our next story reading session. The nice thing about the book is that each chapter is a little incident complete in itself, and is ideal for read aloud sessions.

all_small_poems1

ALL THE SMALL POEMS AND FOURTEEN MORE by VALERIE WORTH

Valerie Worth is simply brilliant! Her poems encapsulate simplicity at its best! Her poems open our eyes to the beauty in the most ‘ordinary’ of objects.

Custard-and-Company-Poems-Cover

CUSTARD AND COMPANY by OGDEN NASH

An often requested book. The children enjoy these funny poems, much like they enjoy the poems of Shel Silverstein. The two most loved poems in the book are, ‘The Boy Who Laughed At Santa Claus’ and ‘The Tale of Custard the Dragon’

Ionesco - Story Number 2 (Failly)025

STORY NUMBER 2 by EUGENE IONESCO

Having been recently donated to our library by a friend, I was curious as to how the children would react to the book which reverses usual relationships. When we started reading, first there was disbelief, followed by some giggles and then belly-hurting laughter. Needless to say, there is a long list of children who now want to borrow ‘Story Number 2’.

INVITATION by Shel Silverstein

If you are a dreamer, come in.

If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer,

If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire, For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.

Come in! Come in!!

Hand Work

Little Girl Knitting by Albert Anker
Little Girl Knitting by Albert Anker

We do a lot of hand work at school.

There’s woodworking, sewing, finger knitting, fish braiding (initiated by one of the children who also likes the privilege of being the one to present it to the others), weaving, crocheting and more recently, following paper patterns to make soft toys.

This year I plan to introduce children to knitting. Ideally, I would like to show them how to make their own wooden/bamboo knitting needles. It would call upon some of the wood working skills they have already gained and I am sure they will love the process of making the needles.

It is important to sow the seeds of a great many things in the elementary years. Children are still enthusiastic and willing to try their hand at all manner of ‘new’ pursuits. In the developmental stage that is to follow – the adolescent years, one sees this spirit decline. Instead adolescents want to ‘create’. What they do not want, is to start working from scratch on the skills they need to bring to life what they are imagining. If the skills have already been gained then they will use them and express themselves through their creations. This need for self-expression has resulted in substantial blocks of time being put aside for creative and self expression during the erdkinder years.

Work with our hands is important at every age.

“Men with hands and no head, and men with head and no hands are equally out of place in the modern community…” – Dr. Maria Montessori (Childhood to Adolescence)

The Long Bead Chains Cabinet

The elementary finally has the long bead chains rack to show off this beautiful material!

It took a day and a half to put the cabinet together and I could not be happier!

What a far cry from storing them in boxes like we have up until now.

What’s more it was made at a fraction of the cost of those available with the material manufacturers.  Also we used better quality wood to do justice to this superbly elegant material .

Once all the chains were hooked, squares aligned and cubes neatly placed in a row, Violet, one of our ancillary staff commented, “This looks like a jewellery shop”

The children are going to LOVE it!

PS: For those of you who are wondering what the long bead chains actually are : the material allows a child to build an arithmetic square (10 x 10) and then an arithmetic cube (10 x 10 x 10) for numbers 1 to 10!

For example, 10 bars of 10 beads in each bar, fold in together to make a square of 10 (ie 10 x 10 ); the child continues folding in the squares and ends with 10 squares of 10 bars of 10 beads.

She replaces the folded bars for actual squares and when she stacks them up one on top of the other.

Lo Behold! the 10 squares form a cube of 10 (10 x 10 x10).

There are corresponding tickets of multiples that the child lays out and thereby the arithmetic value of a square and cube is also worked with.

Building the basic frame.
Building the basic frame.
Measure measure measure
Measure measure measure
Checking the hooks
Backing - check; hooks - check; shelves for squares - check; shelf for cubes - check; symmetry - check!
Backing – check; hooks – check; squares – check; cubes – check; SYMMETRY – CHECK!
BEAUTY!
BEAUTY!

The Making of Timelines

This summer break I have been busy with making the ‘missing’ timelines for the elementary environment.

Having already oriented themselves to their immediate environment in their first plane of development from 0 to 6 years, children in the second plane of development from 6 years to 12 years, seek to orient themselves to the entire cosmos.

In a Montessori environment, the universe itself is opened up to them through ‘Cosmic Education”. The lietmotif of Cosmic Education is the interdependance of all things, both animate and inanimate, and the gratitude that arises from this understanding.

Looking back in gratitude to all the participants in the drama of cosmic evolution is a subtext that plays constantly in the background of the elementary classroom.

The absence of easy accesibility to a vendor who stocks Montessori timelines in India has in fact been a boon. I have always found my understanding of a work crystallise when I am engaged in making the material myself. Moreover, the connection of the ‘hand’ to the material becomes more evident to the children.

Over the past two weeks rolls of cloth have been examined, measured and cut. An enterprising, and possibly only ‘alteration tailor’ in Bangalore has been befriended. Skeins of silk embroidery floss have been pulled out of dusty drawers and the tape measure has become my constant companion.

KHADI

First Stop was Khadi Bhandar, where the fabric was purchased. The patient salesman heard our request for unusual measures of cloth. Meters upon meters of black khadi, strange measures of blue, brown, green and red khadi were purchased.

Gandhi's beloeved Khadi
Gandhi’s beloved Khadi

SREEDHAR’S SHOP ON WHEELS AND THE BLANK TIMELINE OF LIFE

I have to admit this is the first time I have come across this particular piece of ingenuity. Sreedhar, an evidently enterprising gentlemen drove up to school in his tailoring shop on wheels!

For the next 6 hours he helped us put together the blank timeline of life. After hearing me wax lyrical about the timeline and explain the idea behind the colour coded strips of cloth, Sreedhar was sufficiently charmed by the idea of making it.

We had blue for the Paleozoic Era where life predominantly existed in the waters of earth, a brown strip to represent the Mesozoic Era where life invaded the land, a green strip for the Cenozoic Era where grass, mammals and birds evolved and finally a tiny strip of red to represent humans on earth.

The blank timeline is a blank replica of the timeline of life which charts the evolution of life. Children place pictures, labels and cards of information on pre-historic life and paleogeography onto the blank timeline to construct their own timeline of evolution. By engaging in this work they discover many inter-dependancies – the plants, the animals, the rocks, the oceans, the mountains, even the ice-ages, all interdependant, forming the web of life.

The sliver of a red strip at the end, represents humans. It visually communicates the short time that humans have lived on earth, as compared to all the other players.

The child eventually comes to see herself as the beneficiary of cosmic gifts.

Each year I hear, “Earth has been home to the jellyfish, amoeba, sponges etc etc, so much longer than it has been our home!” or “It is amoeba who are really our ancestors!”

Sreedhar's shop on wheels
Sreedhar’s shop on wheels
All measured up
All measured up
The completed timeline
The completed blank timeline of life

THE LONG BLACK STRIP

The story goes that the idea of the black timeline came to Montessori when she was residing in India. She had recently had a conversation with a child who had told her that there was nothing that he could learn from someone in the West as India had the oldest real civilisation in the world.

Later she observed workers in the heat and dust of Madras laying black cables in the ground.

From these two things was born the idea of the Long Black Strip – 300 meters of black cloth that represented 3 billion years of our universe’s history. The last few centimeters were coloured white to represent the time that humans have lived on earth.

Today we have reduced the 300 meters to 30 meters, and replaced the white strip with a red one.

Though the timeline does not precisely respresent the current accepted date of 4.5 billion years, it is an attempt to create an impression of the miniscule time that humans have made Earth their home.

The Long Black Strip is a compelling lesson in humility.

timeline black

THE HAND CHART

The hand chart creates an impression about the importance of the hand – of work – to humans.

It is a black strip of cloth representing 7 million years of human evolution. Bang in the center is a picture of a hand with a stone tool. There is also a slim red strip right at the end that represents the birth of writing and recorded history.

All throughout the history of humans, it is their ability to work that has helped them survive.

Here echoes a message: be grateful to those of previous generations who have faithfully, lovingly, and expertly done their work in the world so that you may have life and the benefit of their knowledge!

The Hand
The Hand

 

People say that narrow paths are difficult to walk about, yet, once you have narrowed down the whole, the vast and the big, to its least denominator, the narrow path is simple,
thanks to the process of reaching it.
Christoph Schiebold

Why The Kangaroo Hops

About a month ago, we at the elementary were lucky enough to catch a splendid, magical show, ‘Saltbush Cheering Carpet‘, that was visiting our city. It is was about 2 aboriginal friends that journey across Australia and learn the secrets of their land.

Since then the elementary children have been researching all things Australia and a web of Australia has filled our environment.

The children have studied human migration routes, paleogeography and crustural plates, Australia’s political and economic geography, it’s the flora and fauna, how people satisfied their fundamental needs – then and now, indigenous Australian art, and of course, dreamtime myths.

Finally, as a consolidation of everything they had been working on, the children produced a play.

They chose from the stories they had written in the style of dreamtime myths, through a secret ballot.

The story they voted for was “Why The Kangaroo Hops”.

Each afternoon for a week, they practiced their play. Each evening they worked with their parents to make their costumes.

Finally, they performed the play for the entire school on the day of our christmas celebrations!

Though I have worked with the elementary children for 10 years now, I never know where an experience will take us. A month ago as we sat mesmerized by the show, ‘Saltbush Cheering Carpet’,  no one had any idea that our christmas celebrations would have in it rainbow serpents, kookaburra’s and goannas!

 

Chossing from a list of aboriginal art symbols o paint on their faces
Choosing from a list of aboriginal art symbols to paint on their faces for the play
narrator
Once upon a dream time, there lived a kangaroo that loved to race with his friends. But because he was so slow, he always lost.
After a race in which he lost again, the kangaroo went to the Rainbow Serpents home in the outback and begged the Rainbow Serpent to give him speed. The great Rainbow Serpent agreed, but warned that the kangaroo should never use his speed to make others feel bad.
After a race in which the kangaroo had lost yet again, he could take it no more and made his way to the great Rainbow Serpents home in the Outback. He begged the Rainbow Serpent to give him speed.
The Rainbow Serpent agreed, but warned the Kangaroo to never use his new speed to make others feel bad.
The Rainbow Serpent agreed, but warned the Kangaroo “Never use your new speed to make others feel bad. Remember to always be kind and gentle to others”
It was the day of the great race and guess what? Much to the surprise of everyone, the Kangaroo won! Though the others were happy for him, the Kangaroo forgot all about his promise to the Rainbow Serpent and started making fun of the others!
It was the day of the great race and guess what? Much to the surprise of everyone, the Kangaroo won! Though the others were happy for him, the Kangaroo forgot all about his promise to the Rainbow Serpent and started making fun of the others!
The Rainbow Serpent soon heard about the Kangaroos rude behaviour and at a conference with the carpet snake, kokaburra and goanna, cursed, "From this day forward, all kangaroos will be destined to hop and not run. Yes, they will be able to hop fast, but each time they spring into the air, they will be reminded to be kind and gentle to others!"
The Rainbow Serpent soon heard about the Kangaroo’s rude behaviour and at a conference with the carpet snake, kookaburra and goanna, cursed, “From this day forward, all kangaroos will be destined to hop and not run. Yes, they will be able to hop fast, but each time they spring into the air, they will be reminded to be kind and gentle to others!”
That's all folks! Hope you enjoyed the show!
That’s all folks! Hope you enjoyed the show!

Lucy and the Green Man

lucy

Sometimes things just come together.

I had been looking for that ‘perfect’ chapter book to read to the children at school and then quite unexpectedly, in the mail, I received the answer to my search.

Lucy and the Green Man by Linda Newbery is a delightful book perfect for children ages 7 and up.

We finished our reading yesterday and all the children were happy with the ending but also a little sad that the book was over.

With masterful language and pen and ink drawings, Lucy and the Green Man, slows us down in our fast paced lives, imbibes the ‘simple, everyday’ with magic, is firmly rooted in wildness and has a depth of emotion that children can relate to.

If you are looking for a book to read aloud to your children, here is a gem!

A Searching We Go

What are they looking for?!?

In Mr. K’s words, “Something older than dinosaur bones!”

That’s us on our moss hunt!

Recipe for Moss Milk (to grow your own moss)

from The Evolution Book by Sara Stein

1 cup of spore capsules

1 cup of milk

Put in a blender. This should break open the capsules and release the spores. The milk will provide some nutrition for the young moss.

Put liquid in a spray bottle and spray into crevices, rocks and other places that are constantly damp.

Spray water on these places for a while to ensure constant moisture.

In time you should see your own moss grow.

cooking and healthy eating

Never before have we had so many food choices and never before have we eaten so poorly!

Healthy eating habits are inculcated in the child’s youngest years.

Eating nutritious food together as a family, including children in the preparation of meals, allowing a child to follow her natural appetite in terms of the quantity of food she eats and saying NO to junk food are some of the ways we can inculcate lifelong healthy eating habits.

One way we are trying to encourage healthy eating habits at school is by having the elementary children try their hand at cooking nutritious snacks.

According to studies conducted overseas, children are more prone to eating fresh vegetables and fruit, after a cooking session.

I do not not know if our cooking sessions at school have resulted in children making better food choices in their daily lives, YET. However, what it has definitely done, is generate a conversation of what is healthy and what is not.

In the past  few weeks we have made a beetroot and mushroom salad, a carrot cake (with whole wheat flour) and a healthy version of aloo chaat (Indian potato salad).

The food is served to the entire school.

Besides being a wonderful exercise of practical life, it also provides opportunities to build community.

It is a time when we make our way out into the neighbourhood  to do our grocery shopping. We have become well known faces at the push cart of our neighbourhood vegetable vendor and at the corner store.

The children spontaneously apply the grace and courtesy presentations received. From the “please’s” and “thank you’s” when buying something, to how to serve courteously; how to politely decline a snack and how to respect the declining child’s wishes.

The older children love being the bearers of these gifts of food and the younger children enjoy being the recipients of these gifts.

One never knows how and when a seed will germinate. To follow Dr. Montessori’s advice – let us sow as many seeds as possible and let the rest be the child’s work!

 

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