By Kelly Hale
At the very core of Montessori Elementary is a series of five lessons, known affectionately as The Great Stories. These impressionistic and symbolic lessons are stories that are meant to spark the imagination of the elementary child and create a sense of wonder about the world and universe. Through these five Great Lessons, we open the door to all areas for further exploration, follow-up work, collaboration, and inspiration for work choices in the classroom as well as Going Out. The Great Stories are intentionally told during the first few weeks of school, and children look forward to hearing these stories again, and every year they notice more and more details.
The lessons are as follows:
- The Story of the Universe
- The Story of Life
- The Story of Humans
- The Story of Communication in Sign
- The Story of Numerals.
Each of these Great Stories introduces one of five academic subject areas, respectively: Physical Science, Life Science, History, Language, and Mathematics. When children receive lessons in these areas during the time spent in the Montessori elementary classrooms, the Great Story (or Stories) associated with that particular lesson are usually referenced, and the children generally recall the memory fondly. Each of the Great Stories is written in a way that is particularly interesting to elementary children by appealing to their incredibly active imaginations, which helps with conceptualizing lessons in those subject areas.
The great lessons, as well as the rest of the Montessori curriculum, make up what is referred to as “Cosmic Education.” This pedagogy gives the children the opportunity to follow their own interests and figure out their place in the world, while developing the life skills of self-advocacy, accountability, and resilience. The dynamic environment we create together enables the children to experience learning in a safe and exhilarating way. All the work that we do, both adult and student directed, helps the children work towards independence, self-discipline, intellectual awareness, a sense of community, and most importantly, a profound joy of learning that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
Maria Montessori referred to the act of learning as “self-construction,” meaning that the child who is actively engaged and interested in a topic of study will embody the information through concentration. Concentration in elementary aged children can look different than it does in younger children or adults. This not only results in gratification in the moment, as only the feeling of concentrated work can provide, but what the child experiences in his/her elementary years will appear again (later in life) to reveal its full value.
In the Montessori Elementary environment, we strive to support the children in the present, as well as sow the seeds of curiosity, empathy, and integrity. The Great Stories are a fantastic beginning to this journey, so consider asking an elementary child if they would be willing to tell you their version of one of the stories.