A Cosmic Education – The Five Great Lessons
If you are looking at a simple way to approach your home education with children age 6+ then you could consider using the Montessori Five Great Lessons as a framework. In this blog post, I am going to be telling you a bit more about them and how you can use them as your framework.
In our home ed adventure, this is one of the things I have been waiting to introduce to Addie and Bear to. Normally in a Montessory primary (elementary if you are in the US) classroom, they are introduced at age 6. I actually did the first one with Addie when she was almost six. She loved it, but Bear was really not interested (not unexpected, seeing as he was 4), and because he had a wonderful way of being, well honestly, disruptive, I decided to wait until he was six to introduce them. Then lockdown happened and I didn’t want to change anything up at the time, so we are starting them in September.
What are the Five Great Lessons?
The Five Great Lessons are big stories that excite and amaze children about the world that they live in, how it all began, and spark some big ideas and wonder at how amazing everything around them is. They show the children the big picture, and then they can, over the next 3-6 years, delve deeper into the smaller parts that stir up an interest in them.
In a Montessori school, they are normally taught every year from age 6 and while some schools might stop at 9, it is my experience that they continue up until the age of 12. They are also normally taught at the beginning of the school year, in fairly quick succession. Often this is one new Great Lesson taught every 2-3 weeks, giving the children a little time to explore some key lessons after each one. Some will teach all the lessons quickly over 2 months, and then spend 1-2 months delving into each one in turn. The idea is that the interests that come from these lessons and key lessons fuel a large part of the child’s learning for the rest of the year. There are other lessons that take place alongside these, but following the interests of the child and having them be independent in choosing a lot of their learning is quite an important skill that these Lessons bring about. Research skills, comprehension, experimentation, knowledge gathering, reporting their findings – these are all areas that start to be developed over these few years.
How we are using the Great Lessons
We will be transitioning to using the Great Lessons in our home education, and the children are excited to be able to choose a lot of the things they will be learning. They understand that we will still be keeping a lot of the other lessons we already have, and what will actually happen is these lessons will start to become more guided by the Great Lessons, which I will explain in a bit.
The First Great Lesson – The Coming of the Universe and Earth
I love this story. Addie has always remembered it, even though we didn’t really do any follow up work for it the last time, and she has been begging for me to do it again. It is a lovely, fairly long lesson, involving popping a balloon to show the scientific ‘big bang’ theory and how the universe was formed. We talk about solids, liquids and gases, volcanoes, continents and more in just that lesson. In fact, here is a list of what this lesson introduces and can lead on to (and more):
Astronomy – solar system, planets, stars, constellations
Weather – water cycle, clouds, currents, glaciers
Chemistry – states of matter, atoms, mixtures, reactions, the periodic table, experiments
Physics – gravity, forces, electricity, light, sound, heat, motion
Geology – types of rocks, formation of landforms, volcanoes, earthquakes, continental and tectonic plates, eras of the earth, ice ages
Geography – continents, physical geography, land and water forms, maps, globes, continent studies, country studies
Now, you see, we already look at a lot of these things, but here they will all start being brought together, so the children see the interconnectedness of everything, and we can also start forming the basis of future work.
One thing that is also really interesting to cover are creation myths and how other cultures, and religions, view the creation of the world. Obviously, in the First Great Lesson, there is not yet any life on Earth, and this lesson is very much more a scientific one, but I love looking at these with children too, covering the Biblical creation account, and every year looking at a couple of additional viewpoints and myths.
The Second Great Lesson – The Coming of Life
Wow this is a big lesson too, where the Timeline of Life is introduced.We look at how life started, and how it evolved. We look at all the roles living organisms have to play, and how plants and animals came to be. This involves the study of:
Biology – cells, kingdoms of life, classification, observation, using a microscope
Botany – different types of plants, leaves, parts of a plant, classification, functions of plants
Habitats – food chains and webs, ecosystems, adaptation, conservation
Ancient life – eras of the earth, evolution, extinction, dinosaurs, fossils
Monera, Protista, Fungi Kingdoms – classification + more
Dinosaurs are always a firm favourite when learning this for the first time (and often every time to be honest!). We live on the Jurassic Coast, and have a trip planned to go fossil hunting at one of our favourite beaches (I say that, but nearly every beach is one of our favourites!). Addie and Bear have a renewed interest in dinosaurs anyway after we watched the Jurassic Park and Jurassic World movies over lockdown, so I am pretty sure that is one thing they will choose. Also, our nature studies curriculum covers pretty much all of these subject areas, but I have deliberately left off a lot of the classification studies until now, so we will see how that goes. It may not happen this year, but we shall see.
The Third Great Lesson – The Coming of Man
This introduces the very small part in the history of our world where man has populated the planet. We talk about the gifts that humans are blessed with – an imagination, hands that can be used for good and for creating things, and hearts to love others with. This is also where our history studies we have been doing already on ancient civilisations will come into play. The areas that can lead from this Great Lesson are:
History – study of civilisations and timelines, local history and the history of other places
Culture – art, music, theatre, architecture, textiles and clothing, religion, culture, artists, musicians and composers, design, customs and manners, sports.
Social studies – governments, law, economics, entrepreneurship, charity, current events
Discovery & Invention – explorers, scientists, inventors, inventions, simple machines
Another big area that I love is looking at the Fundamental Needs of Man, where we look at how, despite living in different ages, the things we need are pretty much the same, and helps us to study culture either within one, or across cultures. For example, we could look at the Ancient Greeks and look how they met their needs (defense, transportation, clothing, shelter, nourishment, medicine, religion, communication, art, ornamentation, music and dance), or we can pick one area, for example, transportation, and compare how different cultures or people in different times got around. We can also bring in money, tools and legal system too.
I know it might seem like we are already covering these things with the children, so why do the Great Lessons. I see it like this. The Great Lessons will now give them a bird’s eye view of the whole, and they will start piecing together the reason behind why we learn what we learn, and also give them the motivation and sense of wonder to appreciate more the things we are learning, but I know they will love how it is like a puzzle and now we are bringing it together.
The Fourth Great Lesson – The Story of Writing
I want to say first that I think this and the last Great Lesson are genius. They add a context which I think is really lacking, but adds so much to the study of language (and maths). In the Story of Writing, we learn about how communication by writing has evolved and focuses on our unique and amazing ability to put our thoughts to paper. (I am secretly hoping that this will spark more writing in my reluctant writers by the way!). This lesson paves the way for:
Reading – books, plays, literature, poetry, myths, folk tales, reading comprehension, authors, reading analysis
Writing – voice, style, research, letter writing, study skills
Language – origins of spoken and written language, foreign languages, language origins (for example, a lot of our words originate from Latin or Greek)
Structure – alphabets, grammar, punctuation, word study, spelling, figures of speech, sentence analysis
We can also look at things like the printing press, the power of the written and spoken word, have debates, discussions, make our own books – the children are due to be published in a Child Author Project book later this year too!
The Fifth Great Lesson – The Story of Numbers
This teaches the history and the story of mathematics, and how early civilisations only counted one, two or many. We will explore the concept of zero, and how maths systems came into place over the centuries, and how we have what we have now. We will be covering:
Numbers – history of numbers and concepts, number systems, types of numbers, mathematicians, bases
Mathematics – operations, fractions, decimals, percentages, squares & cubes, ratio, probability, algebra
Geometry – shapes, solids, measurements, lines, angles and more
Maths in context – number problems, money, graphs, rounding and estimation, measurements
I am really looking forward to this focus on maths. I know I haven’t listed specific resources here, because I am saving that for individual posts on subjects, but I have to mention the Carol Vorderman’s How Maths Works book, because it has loads of history of maths, mathematicians and their inventions on maths concepts and I have had that book since we owned our school, waiting for the time to introduce it to the children! And now I get to! They absolutely love maths, and I know they will love doing a concept a week from this book!
So, these are the Great Lessons. I think they are a brilliant framework to go from to cover pretty much every subject you can think of. Have you used or are thinking of using these now as your basis for your home education? Let me know in the comments!