Establishing Connections in Elementary - Cosmic Education

Cosmic Education is not an album on its own - it is a way of educating oneself and the child. It is more than just the Great Lesson - it is a way of interacting and considering interdependencies.

Great Lessons should start with a review of previous Great Lessons - while each Great Lesson is a stand-alone story, it is also connected with the others as part of a grander Whole.

The end of every Great Lesson should end with something along the lines of, "Thank you for participating in this story today - we will learn more on another day!"

Even Key Lessons (every lesson in the albums that are not Great Lessons) should quick-review what the child already knows, what has he been working on; and end with an invitation to more. More work/practice on the the skill involved because there will be another presentation and greater discoveries after that; or invitation to deeper work and contemplation; and an invitation to come for another presentation on another day.

Built-in gratitude for the child's participation - and one of our goals in cosmic education is to build gratitude for those people who came before us as well as a responsibility to share the gifts from those who came before with those who are with us now and those who will come after us.

Elementary Work Plan - to meet local educational requirements

Why do we have Montessori children doing work plans at the elementary level? 

Just ONE reason: 

Part of our commitment to the child’s acculturation is the attention we give to what is expected of the child in the society. Our environments should contain a public school curriculum detailing the goals for the local public school’s 9 and 12 year olds. 
(end of lower elementary, end of upper elementary)

Weekly meetings occur with the child about work that has been completed and begun and about these standards that need to be met. 

We can use or adapt our key lessons to help the child reach mastery of these expectations. There are some instances where we may have to create some additional keys to fulfill requirements, for example a lesson on the currency of our country. We do have to take care to be judicious in these situations, keeping in mind that any unnecessary help is a hindrance

In all instances, we should let the joy of discovery be the child’s.

Follow the Child

Let's juxtapose a few Montessori principles to see what they reveal :)

Follow the child.

Freedom and responsibility.

The child is the constructor of the man (loose translation).

Yes, we follow the child, but if the child is leading us toward a fugue, it is OUR responsibility to re-direct him. Immediately in the case of bad habits and of danger (physical, emotional, spiritual).
That applies to both primary and elementary - and all ages actually. We do NOT let babies stick their fingers in outlets, nor toddlers to stick knives in outlets - but we do allow elementary children to build electrical circuits - because we have given them a strong foundation in safety and good habits. THUS, the child's work is ENHANCED because we provided boundaries.

Freedom and responsibility. Your freedom ends where mine begins and my freedom ends where yours begins. We do not let babies pull on mother's hair just so they have freedom (that is actually called license and Montessori was adamant that license is NOT acceptable).
They learn these boundaries that we provide for them, so that later, let's say in elementary, the children learn that they have freedom to explore their interests, AND they have the responsibility to be genuine in their work - not just busy work; they also have the responsibility to meet any local educational standards.

Ultimately, they have societal freedom and responsibility as well. We can go anywhere we want on public sidewalks, but we do not have the freedom to walk through other people's gardens and yards without permission. We have freedom to visit local nature centers, and the responsibility to follow the rules set there. They have freedom to do many things in this world, but must always be aware of the local rules and laws and customs so as to be respectful of others and be a responsible human being.

The child is the constructor of the man - but it is the other adults who must provide the appropriate tools - whether these are material-goods or metaphysical realities.

A child who has difficulty telling the truth, cannot connect with reality, has imaginary friends to the detriment of making and keeping real friends - this child has a fugue and Maria Montessori provides the solutions for working these out. We do NOT follow this child down Imaginary Friend Lane, thereby keeping him from making real friends.

A child who just LOVES workbooks and worksheets should NOT be given a curriculum that is nothing but workbooks and worksheets. These things do not help the child to THINK, to CONNECT, to INTERACT. They can have their place, a very small place in the academic Montessori - and there will indeed be "worksheets" in the real world (tax forms come to mind!) - so knowing how to use them is fine.

A child who just LOVES candy, should NOT be followed to candy dish at every meal, in between every meal. A few small treats in balance is good for the soul. Too much candy leads to unhealthy mind and body AND soul.

What about a child with a keen academic interest and the work is truly deep? SURE! Keep it GOING! But don't let him stall there either. Slowly (slower than usual) still be providing other presentation, other learning. This will only serve to ENRICH his current work, encouraging new connections and sometimes integration of the new material with the current/past. It also provides additional work choices as the first main interest peters out. If a child steeped in nothing but ancient history studies that for 5 years and never gets ANY stories, tidbits, quick presentations on his local country's history - and never touches a lick of math? Is that healthy for the child? No. He's not a "literate citizen" at that point. He doesn't need a LOT of the other stuff when an intense interest is at hand - but does need continued "food" - continued balance - to promote continued studies. We are talking a small part of the week to present a few new things - nothing major - nothing distracting - just a bit of "here is something else you can save for later". But if we avoid adding in these little bits, we have an undernourished child.

We must also trust that children are capable of multiple interests at once as well. This does not mean we overwhelm them - it just means we observe - and respond. Continue our stories. Continue planting seeds so they have LOTS of time for germination as the child works to construct himself.

Follow the child.

Freedom and responsibility.

The child is the constructor of the man (loose translation).

Great Lessons and Key Lessons - some thoughts

Some excerpts from an AMI theory paper on the Great Lessons and Key Lessons:

Dr. Montessori believed that “our teaching must only answer the mental needs of the child, never dictate them.” The mental needs and the mental activity of the elementary-aged child hinge upon the newly evolving faculties of imagination and reason. Remember at this stage of development the powers of the human intellect are most keen. The child’s mind is sharp and energetic. It is ready for meaningful exploration and discovery.

The framework for Dr. Montessori’s plan of education for the second plane child is cosmic education. In cosmic education, the universe, its composition and its inhabitants are opened up to the child. Within this framework, the child is able to spring into the grand and the mysterious, into the distant past and into the future. He is able to discover interdependencies as well as personal responsibility. Cosmic education serves up food for the imagination and food for the reasoning mind.

We go from the theory of cosmic education to actual practice of cosmic education with a series of mystery stories. They are grand in scope, inspiring in vision, systematic in progression, colorful in detail and deeply personal in implication. These stories are told with the respect both they and their intended audience deserve.

Each of the Great Lessons is an independent story, but after the first, each elaborates upon a theme set in the previous.

God with No Hands: The first of the cosmic tales. It is the story of the creation of the universe with particular attention given to our sun and our planet. The elementary age child is attracted to the grand and the mysterious, so ideally on the very first day in the elementary environment, that child is presented with the story that contains all the seeds of human knowledge: coldness, darkness, fire, air, water, solid, liquid, gas; elemental obedience and the establishment of order. The child’s imagination allows participation. The story distills the unreachable into the understandable. This first great lesson begins to answer some of the children’s questions but more importantly it excites new ones. 

            The Coming of Life: This story follows within a week of the first. This story focuses on the development and refinement of earth’s flora and fauna.  It brings to the child’s attention the diversity, the beauty, and tenacity of life. The timeline that accompanies the story represents some of the biological and geological events that are part of earths’ history. It represents a few of the plants and animals that have graced our earth. At the end of the second story, the child is introduced to a very special life-form, whose story receives elaboration about a week later in the third Great Lesson: human beings.

            The Coming of Human Beings: Thus far, the child has been placed in contact with abiotic and biotic creatures of the world. Each element of creation, whether living or not, is subject to natural laws, to inner directives and universal order. Each contributes by its every existence to the contribution and continuation of life. This story becomes our story – the child’s story – with the third Great Lesson. The human being enters the scene with the very special attributes of reason and will – intelligence and love – with an ability to work with the hand in ways unknown to other animals and with the possibility of choice. Dr. Montessori said, “Something new came into the world with man, a psychic energy of life, different from any that had yet been expressed.” Human beings have used their intelligence, love and hands to continue their own story. Two of their major accomplishments, literacy and numeration, are introduced in the next two Great Lessons. Because they do not open subject areas in the same way as do the first three Great Lesson, you can wait a small number of weeks (2-3) before coming to these stories if the children are not yet ready.

            Communication in Signs: It takes the child on a journey through the development of our alphabet. Another week or two later, comes the fifth Great Lesson.
            Numbers: This story traces the history of the numerals we use.

            In both of the above last stories, connections are made between cultures of different times and places. The children are led to an appreciation of these two symbol systems that we usually take for granted, despite the fact that we ourselves use them more or less everyday. 

Because the initial impression has been clear and uncluttered, the relationships and connections between them remain intact.

A vision of the whole provides the child an orientation, a home base, within space, time and history. It is the nature of the human being to order the environment in a meaningful way. Great Lessons reveal to the child the importance of order and laws and directives within the cosmos and within the creations of human beings, for example the conventions of writing and arithmetic. In the elementary environment, the children are at work, physically and intellectually, creating their own body of knowledge.

            Repeat the stories every year or every few months. Yes, even into upper elementary. When the child does not want to repeat because they “know it all” invite them in with, “Let’s just see if perhaps there is something more here we didn’t see before.”

Remember that we offer a colorful overview, not exhaustive information.

Invite *all* elementary children to the Great Lessons.

Older children (upper elementary) have their own work with the Great Lessons, so keep telling them. 


The Key Lessons are guideposts along the path of learning and discovery; supports here and there that follow up the Great Lessons and lead to deeper understanding and greater connections. They can be done in between the Great Lessons or at any point in time afterward. 

The Lessons in the albums that are not Great Lessons or games or extensions are key lessons. Mario Montessori defined key lessons as lessons which “take up the detail item by item. Each gives some new information, presents new material, or shows another exercise in a progression which allows the mind to build up knowledge and to continue searching on its own for what it does not know.” Key lessons are those which are absolutely necessary for the child’s understanding – the (AMI) albums are filled with key lessons. 

The albums are filled with key lessons and each album has a root in a Great Lesson. Each album takes up the details and clarifies or elaborates upon them. Besides the keys that we offer with materials, other key lessons are the short stories that the adult tells to illuminate a particular lesson already given. Some of the stories are in the albums, and others are developed by the adult, based on research as well as the principles of clarity and brevity. The key lessons are always ended with an indication that there is more to come – more to explore, together or individually.

Key lessons are guideposts along the path of learning within cosmic education. You will use most of them with your children, but if a child has the understanding already, remember that the materials are tools to an end, not the end in itself. Key lessons do not open up new areas, but provide touch-points for discussions, deeper understanding and encouragement of further learning. 

Elementary: Additional Resources

Some thoughts on resources in elementary. This topic generates a lot of personal e-mail questions!

  • AMI albums are a framework with lots of meat. But if your children learn ONLY what is in the albums, they will not have everything they actually need. The point to the framework/meat analogy is that there is a LOT there - but your children are SUPPOSED to be exploring their own interests, going deeper. They are NOT supposed to have everything handed to them. Period. No long tedious lessons just because they need to get it (even if it is a great Montessori lesson! if it is long and tedious and does NOT spark interest, toss it out!). If you present everything in AMI albums AND provide time/space for interests to develop, THEN your children *will* get everything they need. 
  • Therefore your children will NEED other resources. Of your choosing as to appropriateness, but of their choosing as to personal interests. 
  • Yes, you can dictate some outside requirements. But these requirements plus the Montessori albums should still not be ALL your child learns. 
  • Thus children should be taking cues from the lessons, exploring on their own and with classmates and coming to new discoveries of new subject areas. Positive peer influence! We want more of that!
  • Children in homeschool situations may benefit from the parent having a few carefully selected other resources or plans to balance out what the child is missing from not being in the classroom: conversations, environmental activities and the like. 

Special Needs in Montessori

Dr. Montessori started her work with special needs children - this is where the first discoveries were made on what became known as the normalization of children.

Dr. Montessori discovered a universal child - and this universal child is not affected by special needs or challenges. THIS universal child is well-met in every authentic Montessori environment.

Is it true that today many allegedly Montessori environments cannot handle a variety of special needs? Yes, it is a sad truth. But that is not the Montessori method that is not open to children of special needs - it could be a wide variety of factors including but not limited to any or a combination of the following.
If your environment is not capable right now of addressing all special needs, considering how the following could be adjusted:

  • physical space (a school renting basement space with no elevator will not be able to accommodate many physical needs). 
  • lack of adult preparedness (easy to address)
  • lack of adult desire or interest (not so easy to overcome; but if the need arises, could it be overcome?)
  • observation skills - are true observation skills in place? 
  • is the adult able to truly "follow the child" - this could mean some modifying of some (very very few!) materials in order to follow a particular child in his particular needs. 
  • does the child need a more one-on-one helper? Can the environment support this helper? Can this helper also be trained in Montessori (as a Montessori assistant, or at least to study the theory) - so as to understand more appropriately when to give various types of help? 
  • Are the other children relatively normalized? if so, they will welcome children of various needs. 
  • What other considerations should be added to this list? 

A true Montessori environment will be able to address these concerns. But no place is "perfect". If your environment isn't quite there - consider how to get there. Even if you homeschool, what might need to change IF you have a child with special needs? 

The main point: observe and respond. 

Lower and Upper Elementary Presentations - 2

(continuing on from yesterday's Nugget)

In this way, only one set of elementary albums is necessary for both lower and upper elementary as compared to albums for lower and separate albums for upper; complete albums allow the children to flow where they need to be at a particular moment in a particular area.

The children will let you know where their interests are; good elementary albums allow you time to explore those interests without mandating every second of a child's work. Good albums will provide some but not too many suggestions for follow-up, personal research resources, resources to have in the environment --- the main control here is what does YOUR environment need? Not "does your environment match everyone else's?"

Question: If your environment matches anyone else's, are your albums dictating far too much leaving little room and time for personal research? Are you able to strive to meet the particular needs and interests of the elementary child before you? Are you meeting the child's needs and tendencies? Are you able to meet the psychological characteristics of the elementary age with the tools you have on hand? Do you need to get rid of some tools? Replace? Add different ones?

Lower and Upper Elementary Presentations

The same themes are present in the lower and upper elementary. Themes are simply re-presented (sometimes with the same material and close to the same wording of the presentation!) and explored deeper and wider - more thoroughly.

In lower elementary the children explore the foundation, they are exposed to cosmic education and provided the grand overview of the universe. They then delve into details of interest.

EVERY year they receive the Great Lessons - every year they delve into different details.

Most album pages, the children get them when they get them - whatever is appropriate for the individual child.

The few album pages that are specifically set aside for only upper elementary, those that are "almost" a requirement to be in upper elementary, are going deeper with a particular theme from lower elementary - expanding upon and deepening it.

So focus lower elementary on laying the foundation in each area, and presenting the grand overview of Cosmic Education.

Then allow upper elementary for going deeper and more thorough.

What do we provide our children?

From the beginning, Dr. Montessori found one principle that holds true across all other teachings. When considering these young children, elementary children, adolescents - all in the process of developing themselves, taking in the environment around them to construct themselves:

The greatest for the least.

The best of ourselves. The best of the materials. The best of the culture. The best and richest language.

Good quality colored pencils.

High vocabulary.

Loving examples of relationships.



The essentials.