Cosmic Education

Rachael Jacobson Cosmic Education Exiled to India during World War II, Maria Montessori developed one of the basic tenets of her philosophy of education. This tenet is what she called cosmic education. In To Educate the Human Potential (ed 2007 p9) Montessori said that, “the stars, earth, stone, life of all kind form a whole in relation to each other, and so close is this relation that we cannot understand a stone without some understanding of the great sun”. This interconnectedness, the interconnectedness of every element of the universe, is at the heart of cosmic education.
As Dr. Montessori explains, “all things are part of the universe, and are connected with each other to form one whole unity. The idea helps the mind of the child to become focused, to stop wandering in an aimless quest for knowledge. He is satisfied having found the universal center of himself with all things”. Montessori believed that children who received a cosmic education would grow to have a clearer understanding of themselves because they had a better understanding of the natural world and their place in it.
She also believed that children are much closer to nature than adults. Therefore, the ideas of cosmic education can be impressed upon them more easily so that they can grow up with an appreciation and sense of wonder about the natural world and keep it as adults. An awareness of the interdependence between humans and the universe and the sense of gratitude that comes from that awareness are absolutely necessary if a child is to grow into a peaceful human being.

Montessori believed that providing a cosmic education to children would be a means to this end because children who are exposed to all the elements and forces of nature gain a sense of importance, purpose, and responsibility, which they carry into their adult lives. It was her belief that the future was in the hands of children and that their education would determine whether or not the future humankind was a peaceful or one fraught with destruction, violence, and war. Cosmic Education is held together by a“glue” known as The Great Lessons. The Great Lessons introduce the overall scope of cosmic education .
There are five Great Lessons. “Montessori believed that storytelling was an ideal way to introduce knowledge to elementary children, engaging both their imaginations and their developing powers of reason”. All of these lessons are accompanied by illustrations and charts, and many by scientific demonstrations. They are all told to the children in the first months of school, and are re-told each year to the returning children. They help children build a context for the knowledge that they will acquire throughout their years as EC, EI and E2 students. The Five Great Lessons are: 1.
The Coming of the Universe: This lesson introduces scientific thought on the origins of the universe and our own planet. Using charts and experiments, this first Great Lesson describes how minerals and chemicals formed the elements, how matter transforms to three states of solid, liquid, and gas, how particles joined together and formed the earth, how heavier particles sank to the earth’s core and volcanoes erupted, and how mountains were formed and the atmosphere condensed into rain, creating oceans, lakes, and rivers. From this story, students are introduced to lessons in physics, astronomy, geology, and chemistry.
For example, they learn about light, heat, convection currents, gravity, galaxies, planetary systems, the earth’s crust, volcanoes, erosion, climate and physical geography. 2. The Coming of Life: This lesson represents the beginning of life on Earth from the simplest forms through the appearance of human beings. The second Great Lesson explains how single-cell and multi-cell forms of life became embedded in the bottom of the sea and formed fossils. It traces the Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and the Cenozoic periods, beginning with the kingdom of trilobites and ending with human beings.
The teacher indicates on a time line where vertebrates began, followed by fish and plants, then amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. In this lesson students are introduced to the basics of zoology and botany. 3. The Coming of Human Beings: This lesson is an introduction to prehistory and history that continues the exploration of life on Earth, with an emphasis on the development of humans. The aim is for the children to imagine what life was like for early humans. This lesson is the basis for lessons in history and the development of ancient civilizations.
They also learn how climate and topography influenced various civilizations. 4. The Story of Our Alphabet: This story is an introduction that follows the development of writing from its appearance in primitive cultures to its role in modern times. From this lesson, students use grammar materials, which help them examine how language is put together, and refine capitalization and punctuation. Students are introduced to the study of the origin of English words from other languages, the meanings of prefixes and suffixes and different forms of writing such as poetry and prose. 5.
The Story of Our Numerals: This story is an introduction that emphasizes how human beings needed a language for their inventions to convey measurement and how things were made. The story describes how number systems evolved throughout time and within different civilizations. This story is the basis for the children’s learning of mathematics, which is integrated into all studies. The first three stories are what Duffy (2002 p30) calls “the story of our origin and past,” while the last two stories are illustrations of “human cultural accomplishments and the evolution of human ideas. Stoll Lillard (2005 p134) calls this “a core of impressionistic knowledge that is intended to inspire the child to learn more. ” The Great Lessons simultaneously raise and answer questions. How did the universe come to be? Our solar system? Our planet? Our oceans, lakes, mountains, forests, flowers, and animals? The Great Lessons helps children see how interrelated all things are. They instill in children the understanding that all people are one and that we must all be our brother’s keeper. Most importantly, The Great Lessons provide the child with a macro view of the world.
Through the stories told in each of the five lessons, the child is introduced to “the big picture”. “Children become aware that the universe evolved over billions of years, and that it is based on the law and order through which all the plants, animals, and the rest of creation is maintained. From that point, students are introduced to increasing levels of detail and complexity within these broad areas and gradually understand that they are part of this order and are participants in the ongoing life of the universe.
Thus, The Great Lessons provide a springboard of sorts from which children can develop their individual interests and shape their own learning. The Great Lessons allow the child to move between macro and micro levels of knowledge. The basic premise of cosmic education maintains that no subjects should be taught in isolation. Rather all elements of the curriculum are viewed as interdependent upon one another. The outcome of cosmic education allows children to become thankful for the world around them and an understanding of their place in it. They will begin to understand that they have been given many gifts from the past and present.
They also develop wonder, gratitude, a sense of purpose, and a feeling of responsibility to others, to the earth, and to future generations. If young children grow up with love and respect and the knowledge that they matter, they have the best chance of growing up and meeting their full potential…no matter their circumstances. Duffy, M ; D (2002) Cosmic Education in the Montessori Elementary Classroom Parent Child Press: Hollidaysburg. Montessori, M (ed 2007) To Educate the Human Potential The Montessori Series: Amsterdam. Stoll Lillard, A (2005) Montessori: The Science behind the Genius Oxford University Press: Oxford

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