Cosmic Education: When to Present the Great Lessons

Margaret Stephenson:
Too often I ask teachers, "Have you done the Great Lessons?" and they respond, "No, not yet, because they can't read and write." I say, "Have you ever thought that maybe they only need ears to listen with?" How can we open for the child these doors into the cosmos if we don't give the Great Lessons until the year is half over?
(end quote)

 Main points:
  • children do NOT need to read and write - they only need to have ears (or ability to read sign language) and an imagination
  • Margaret Stephenson: "The cosmic plan can not be fully explored at the second plane. It is too vast. That is why Montessori tells us to sow seeds. And after these seeds are sown, there has to be a period of silence, darkness, and rest, during which the roots grow deeper, before any shoots appear above the ground."
  • There will be some results from the Great Lessons - subject areas open up, interests are enticed, the children receive a REASON for reading and writing --- but the most obvious signs will be seen in adolescence when they start asking of themselves their own place in this Cosmic Plan. 
So tell those stories early in the year! 
     The 5 lessons should be told by the 8th week of the school year at the latest; preferably 5th or 6th. 

Tell them EVERY year! 
    Throughout elementary, they will hear something new; invite them to pick a new point and explore it. 

Do NOT give the children everything! Many of the original demonstrations from the first Great Lesson have been separated out from it into separate album pages for follow-ups; so the children have more opportunities for follow-up work, inviting them to delve deeper into the story with each new demonstration they do. 

Entice their imaginations and enthusiasm for exploration - again don't give them *everything* - but do give them enough to get going on their own. 

Have adolescents new to Montessori? Tell them the stories too! Have them help create some of the charts after they've heard the story without it; invite them to help prepare materials and demonstrations for the youngest children; and work on helping them answer their own questions of "where do I fit in?"


  1. Hi Jessica
    I am currently homeschooling my 6 year old son and we have covered the first great lesson. The work that resulted from the telling is still ongoing, so we have not progressed to any of the other great lessons. Do you find that the telling of the stories in quick succession is more likely to occur in a group/classroom situation? Why would you recommend telling them in this way versus spreading them out over the year?

  2. The wonderful thing about homeschooling is the much greater flexibility :)

    The main push for getting them told in the first several weeks of school is to get a wide expanse of work going in the environment. Each Great Lesson opens up a subject area (except math and language which are already open; however here the Great Lessons provide the "place" - the "why" - the "how" - the reason for caring about these subjects).

    All Great Lessons place their subject area within the overall view of history, culture, and connection to other subjects.

    With the first telling of the stories (the first year), even if lots of work is going on, I do personally like to move through them; as supplemental stories more-so than as "I expect you to do work in this area." With my only-child at home, he enjoyed continuing forward because it gave him time to process ideas in the following Lessons until he was ready to work on them. Also, ee had the "big picture" that is the goal of cosmic education; then when he was ready, we did the appropriate story again.

    In the end in our homeschool, we tell the stories 2-3 times each year, simply because we do not have lots of children around for those built-in reviews (see a child working with a material prompts the memory even if the observing child has not worked with it in a while) - and my son LOVES to hear them. But we also tell them, without the expectation of immediate follow-up work, if other work is going on. And there are other presentations I continue to give, even if my son is totally absorbed in a current project. He is learning and experiencing that there are certain expectations to meet even as one delves into one's own interests. Thus, we continue with math even if ancient languages is the focus right now; we do biology presentations when they are appropriate; and just don't expect a lot of immediate follow-up.

    So that is the long way of saying - in a homeschool, we as a Montessori community are still exploring the "best" way; in a classroom, yes you want to get lots of work going in lots of areas, but the homeschool environment is still an unknown.

    Some points to keep in mind for cosmic education, when adapting to homeschool:
    -we want to give the big picture so that the pieces within each other make sense
    -we want the children to have many options for learning, but not be overwhelmed either
    -they do learn through observation as well
    -the stories are repeated each year, so varying amounts of work will ensue each year.

    My own personal experience suggests that not waiting any more than 2 months at most between Great Lessons, with greater review of the previous Lessons than would typically be done, could be beneficial to a child who is delving into a particular Lesson - at least in the first year to give that overview, big picture.

    Lastly, I think Ms. Stephenson has something more to say between the lines when she says that we are sowing seeds with these Lessons, even as she says that a child cannot sufficiently explore all areas of cosmic education in the second plane alone.
    We want our children to go deep; but we want them to also have those seeds planted, with much time for resting, contemplating, and eventually rooting and sprouting.

    So if we look to the Great Lessons as "sowing seeds" - we can then look at our individual homeschool situations and see what is going to be best for our particular children.

  3. Thanks for making this so clear...
    On reflection, I do agree with the points you have made. I had been hesitant to move onto telling the other stories because I am conscious that my boy already has about 30 times more adult time and supervision than he would have if he were in a classroom. Didn't want my agenda to take over and felt it was important to honour the moment. But at the same time I see the importance of sowing the seeds so that they have time to sit there until ready to germinate into new interests and areas of study. Otherwise we are assuming that as the adult we know when to introduce them. If they have already been introduced then we can allow the child's own timing to determine when the work is begun.
    Thanks! Sometimes it is good to talk this stuff over - it seems to come together better in my mind when I can hear other viewpoints. I really enjoy reading your blogs, Jessica

    1. And I appreciate your asking because as I said: homeschooling is a great unknown right now. As a different environment from a classroom, we are still exploring what is going to work with these smaller groups of children (or just one child!). It is great for me to really have to think about "why am I doing this? is this the best thing?"

      So please ask away :)

  4. I am coming back to this post to make a correction in what I said above:

    In the *first* year I recommend no more than 2 weeks between tellings; with subsequent years moving to the next story as appropriate. (I had said 2 months, but I was thinking of subsequent years with heavy work going on).

    Some of the Great Lessons do not open up areas of intense immediate work options. 1 and 2 can/do; 3rd lays the foundation for gratitude, emphasizes gift, and provides a meaning to the children's current work, more than it opens up actual work options. 4 and 5 can inspire research, but typically not as much the first year as the earlier Lessons (the children love-love-love to copy the charts though! the research part comes in subsequent years).

    Regardless of how much is inspired, the children do need the "big picture" :)