Friday, August 06, 2010

Montessori Elementary Curriculum: Cosmic Education and the Five Great Lessons

A wider, loftier life is (humankind’s) than ever before, and children have to be prepared for it, so the fundamental principle in education is correlation of all subjects, and their centralization in the cosmic plan. ~ Maria Montessori, To Educate the Human Potential

NAMC montessori cosmic education five great lessons children help garden
Montessori Cosmic Education and the Five Great Lessons
If the Five Great Lessons can be said to be the heart of Montessori elementary education, then cosmic education can be described as the soul.

One of the most important underlying principles of Montessori programs is cosmic education, an overall Montessori approach to education that involves helping children develop an awareness that everything in the universe is connected and interdependent and forms a harmonious whole and that they themselves are part of and contribute to that whole.

Montessori Elementary Curriculum: Cosmic Education and the Five Great Lessons

Cosmic education speaks specifically to the “how” and “why” of delivering education. Maria Montessori believed that children are the peacemakers of the future, and that education was the way in which children could be raised as citizens of the world who would find ways to live in social, cultural, and environmental harmony. The interrelatedness of humans and all species is at the forefront of all Montessori teaching in the elementary curriculum. This is particularly apparent when the Montessori teacher presents the Five Great Lessons, a series of five imaginative stories told at the beginning of each year, starting in Year 1 of lower elementary, to give students an overall impression of the grand topics of the universe, the earth, and life on earth.

NAMC montessori cosmic education five great lessons children dancing
Designed to arouse awe, excitement, and curiosity in students, the Montessori Five Great Lessons aim at engaging students at a time when they are particularly open to topics that appeal to their imaginations and inspire them to investigate further. The Great Lessons are designed to draw Montessori students into exploring the subjects of the curriculum, such as language arts, geography, the sciences, history, and mathematics. For example, in the First Great Lesson, the Montessori student hearing the story of how the universe began might be inspired to turn to physical geography to explore the formation of the solar system and to delve into physical science to explore what makes up matter.

The Five Great Lessons lay a foundation for Montessori students to further explore connections between each person’s actions and behavior and the well-being of the universe. This is the Montessori educator’s primary purpose in preparing, telling and illustrating the Five Great Lessons, and it is with careful attention that this foundation leads to success. Beyond the Five Great Lessons, Montessori educators expose their young students to the wonders of nature whenever possible and across all subjects, so that students gain an even deeper understanding of the natural world, and our place in it.

Montessori upper elementary students are increasingly drawn into the curriculum by their desire to explore the part they might play in the greater world and to understand the responsibility this insight brings. The big questions, such as: “Who/What am I?” “Why am I here?” “What is my role/place in the world/universe?” are the questions of cosmic education, and these questions are of particular interest to students at this stage. The answers are best discovered experientially by the students, across all subjects.

NAMC is proud to offer the elementary teaching manual, The Five Great Lessons/Cosmic Education and Peace: a comprehensive curriculum manual for Montessori elementary teachers.

NAMC offers instruction in The Five Great Lessons in the Lower Elementary 6-9 curriculum as designed by Maria Montessori. With utmost respect for the diversity of our international student body, NAMC in no way requires that the Five Great Lessons be taught, and leaves the decision to the discretion of our students.

Recommended reading:
  • To Educate the Human Potential, Maria Montessori. Clio Montessori Series. ISBN 1-85109-094-0
Related NAMC blogs:
As much as possible, NAMC’s web blog reflects the Montessori curriculum as provided in its teacher training programs. We realize and respect that Montessori schools are unique and may vary their schedules and offerings in accordance with the needs of their individual communities. We hope that our readers will find our articles useful and inspiring as a contribution to the global Montessori community.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Friday, August 6, 2010.


  1. This is a component I feel greatly enriches Montessori education. Children naturally have these questions, and we are amiss to not address them in a child's learning journey. Answering the fundamental questions explored in cosmic education will spark a child to be a lifelong learner in a most enlightening fashion.

  2. The Five Great Lessons truly inspire students to wonder about their place in the world and to want to know more about how it works. They want to know how they can be a part of stopping things that were bad from the past, animal extinctions and such, and to develop their own languages and numbers as those previously did. It inspires learning beyond these five lessons

    1. The article states, "The Great Lessons are designed to draw Montessori students into exploring the subjects of the curriculum, such as language arts, geography, the sciences, history, and mathematics.". An example of this is the First great lesson and how it tackles all the subjects of curriculum through story telling and demonstrations. The story gives the students the big picture first and background knowledge that they can apply to everyday learning. How the universe came to be and how we are all interrelated is a powerful first lesson that encourages students to explore their world gracefully and peacefully.

  3. The more I read about Maria Montessori, the more in awe of her I become. The Five Great Lessons must be such an inspiring way to start off the school year. Even as an adult I thoroughly enjoyed reading through the stories and the great ideas for demonstrations. I can certainly see how the lessons and visual presentations would ignite a child's sense of curiosity, imagination, and desire to learn more and find answers to their questions. Can't wait to learn more!

  4. The Five Great Lessons are such a great introduction to the school year and a brilliant idea. They give the kids the keys to answering the very essential questions that they have at that age. The lessons are told in a way that sparkles their curiosity and imagination, the two forces that will power their will to learn throughout the years. They will look for more answers, and with more answers will come more questions. It’s the start of a beautiful virtuous circle of learning. My child is not in a Montessori education anymore unfortunately at the moment, but I will present her the Five Great Lessons every year as I am sure it will inspire her to learn more in her school and outside.

  5. I absolutely love the Great Five. What a great way of peaking our students' interest and yet helping them see a bigger picture that they in time will connect!

  6. The big questions, such as: “Who/What am I?” “Why am I here?” “What is my role/place in the world/universe?” are the questions of cosmic education.
    Maybe i am the only one taking this course that has a hard time with this question. As there is not encouragement to explore the spiritual side of life in this course how can these question be addressed? Please don't Jump on me for this its a question that i am having a hard time with at the moment, you care and peaceful responses would however be welcomed!

    1. I have thought the same things you express, Debbie. I share the way I see and do things here in hopes that it might help you, if even in a small way. I just accept that this is the state of the world we live in, that most organisations are not going to address the "spiritual side of life" as you say because it is not "proper" in our modern day. Then I make it work for the basic needs of my students (and actually religion/spirituality is considered a fundamental human need as it is addressed in the five great lessons Manual). Furthermore, it is helpful to read some of Montessori's original works because you will see that she does encourage toward religion. This is from her book, The Montessori Method:

      “To deny, a priori, the religious sentiment in man, and to deprive humanity of the education of this sentiment, is to commit a pedagogical error similar to that of denying, a priori, to the child, the love of learning for learning’s sake. This ignorant assumption led us to dominate the scholar, to subject him to a species of slavery, in order to render him apparently disciplined.” -Maria Montessori

      You could also try using the "God With No Hands" story as your First Great Lesson story rather than the "Beginning of the Universe and Earth" story in the NAMC Manual. I think you may be able to find that story online.

  7. Debbie, by observing and working with children, Dr. Montessori discovered that children in the 6-9 age range start asking these (and similiar versions of) these big cosmic and spiritual questions. They start to grasp that there is something bigger than themselves as the move into more abstract thought. These are indeed BIG questions, and for this reason she was determined to give children a bigger view through an interconnected curriculum. Rather than piecemeal facts, the Montessori method transcends separated content and provides a truly cross curricular, holistic view of the universe and our role therein.

    We are sensitive to the idea that everyone will consider these questions differently and how people choose to explore the answers, spiritually or otherwise, is up to them. We try to respect everyone’s personal exploration rather than prescribing what that journey should be. That said, by reading and exploring Dr. Montessori's own writing, I think you'll begin to see a greater cosmic sense of how to address these ideas with children. I highly suggest reading Dr. Montessori's book "The Formation of Man" and "To Educate the Human Potential" to start, as well as Catherine McTamaney's "The Tao of Montessori".

  8. What I found intriguing about the Five Great Lessons was that every subject that can be taught in school can relate back to these stories. I like the fact that teachers are able to tell these stories in their own ways by dramatizing it and making it as exciting and interesting as possible. I can see how these stories can bring out a lot of questions of “how” and “why” from the students and how their questions become a tool teachers can use to help students explore and research for themselves. I think that as the students get older and hear the stories over and over again, they will start to make more connections and will begin to realize that one day, maybe they will be part of history as well.

  9. The Five Great Lessons are a beautiful and inspiring way to start a school year. For the first year elementary students, the excitement that the lessons create in them must be hard for them to contain! Imagine the sparks of curiosity that will be ignited after hearing each of the lessons...stars and volcanoes, plant and animal life, humans, letters, numbers...all of this information is laid at their feet and it's theirs to explore. It's amazing! Even more inspiring is that Maria Montessori discovered that giving lower elementary students the Five Great Lessons each year would help them to connect spiritually to the world around them, encouraging them to take care of people, animals, and our earth. This shows how much Dr. Montessori believed younger elementary students are capable of accomplishing. My hope is to inspire children to become caretakers of the earth by teaching these lessons.

  10. 55. As I began this section of the course I was hesitant about the direction these "stories" would take and my ability to share these with my students without contradicting my personal convictions or teaching something I didn't believe. What I found was that the 5 great lessons are very respectful of the individuals ideas and doesn't force a specific theory on the teacher or the child. I like the fact that the stories only introduce the child to the idea but does not create the idea for the child.

  11. I love how the Five Great Lessons are so interconnected with the rest of the Montessori curriculum. It gives the students a giant preview of sorts of the amazing assortment of learning opportunities that lays before them in the years to come! The child can take off with any idea in particular that excites them, and the curriculum is ready to support them in their research.

  12. I have been rehearsing the speech of the Five Great Lessons for the next school year and the more I do it the more excited I am to be the first day of school. The Five Great Lessons are very passionate and give matter to students to work with. They stir the curiosity of the students and make work their imagination. The speech of the Five Great Lessons is a good way to begin the school year to make it interesting and productive.

  13. 55- Before starting to read the manual on the 5 Great Lessons, I did not take the importance of saying these 5 lessons at the beginning of the year and repeat them year after year. I found them too much and not enough detailed at the same time.
    After reading the manual and the blogs and other testimonies, I finally grasped the importance of these lessons. They are not made to learn but mainly to stimulate the imagination based on real facts, want to know more, want to look for more information, want to ask questions.
    I find this approach extremely interesting. Children are asking themselves questions and then go looking for answers. Their memory, their learning, and their memory will be so much more effective because they are involved in this research.
    I was a teacher (for 11 years) in “ordinary" schools in another country and I have often struggled for teaching subjects such as history, geography, science. Just a part of my students seemed interested and it was very hard for me to interest the other part... Today, I say to myself that if I had started my years by these 5 great lessons, these learnings and discoveries would have been so much easier and interesting for these children.

  14. I believe that all children should learn the Five Great Lessons and Cosmic education. Children are our future and will one day take our places in the world. The earlier we teach them about their responsibility to the Earth and each other, the better off our world will be. The idea that everything and everyone is connected creates a more accountable life for our students. This thinking and teaching will create future generations who are willing to help and see the value in bettering the community and saving our planet from pollution and poverty. The younger a child begins thinking about these big ideas, the more time they will have to do something amazing.

  15. The Five Great Lessons are an amazing tool. They are there to enthrall the children and inspire them to want to learn more. While I was reading them I was already inspired to learn more and come up with ways to help my students explore the ideas in each. I hope I'll be able to tell these stories, when the time comes, with the right amount of drama to inspire the awe they are meant to portray.

  16. There are so many astounding components to a Montessori education from the Math materials to its History (instead of biased textbook memorization of wars) but the Great Five Lessons and Cosmic Education and Peace are what makes Montessori even more extra special. Especially in todays world. I think it is these lessons in particular that are missing from other schools curriculums. These lessons are the seeds planted for the hope for raising our awareness levels towards a more peaceful world. Giving children the knowledge of how we truly are all connected and how we can each contribute to make a better whole (even just a bitty piece) will hopefully help them understand and trust their personal journey in life. The 5 Great Lessons are enriching lessons for people of any age.

  17. When first starting to study education I asked myself what is most important for us to teach students, is it to drill students on where to put commas and how to skip count at the expense of everything else as mainstream education in Australia seems to be doing? I noticed how disengaged students were with this process and the lack of interest, wonder and intrinsic motivation which is a result of this approach. Sensitive periods are poorly utilized in mainstream education and subjects are timetabled into different times of the day as if they are all separate and unconnected. When I came across the Montessori method of teaching and learned about Cosmic Education and the Five Great Lessons I knew I had found a philosophy that fits with what I believe! The Universe is clearly interconnected, as are the subjects in schools and in my experience it is only alternative forms of education that truly base their education on this principle. We know that war and conflict only result in pain and suffering, and many of us recognize the importance of raising children who understand the value of peace and can apply peaceful practices in their lives, however how many schools can say they successful incorporate peaceful practice in their classrooms? In my opinion therefore I believe that Cosmic Education, Peace and the Five Great Lessons are amongst the most important inclusions in any educational program which is where I feel Montessori has the best philosophy and method.

  18. I am very nervous to teach the Five Great Lessons. I have read the stories and have begun to prepare, but my worry is that I will not be as smooth or as great of a "story-teller" as I would like because I will be nervous. I'll continue to read and hope they go well.

  19. I find it very interesting that Montessori teachers are being trained to expose their students to all the wonders of nature whenever they can. I appreciate that they intertwine nature whenever possible into every subject, so that students can become well rounded and appreciate the interconnections of the world around us. I believe it helps them understand nature as a whole, and the role they play also.

  20. I agree with many of the points that were brought up throughout the previous comments. The Five Great Lessons are an excellent way to start the school year. The students are extremely engaged and enjoy listening to the stories about the Universe, its creation, life and the many other concepts covered. Having recently presented the first two Great Lesson, I find the demonstrations to be an imperative and extremely important aspect of the presentations. The students love the demonstrations and I found they drastically enhanced the students' understanding and engagement.

    Before starting my Montessori training, I have to admit that I probably would have thought that these concepts were far too difficult or complex for students in early elementary to understand or connect with. My opinion however, has drastically changed. Being able to observe my students fully engaging in the stories and enjoying the thought provoking and interesting concepts that are covered in the Great Lessons, has changed my opinion.

    Teaching students to understand and respect all life and how it is interconnected will benefit the children and many areas of their life. The lasting impact their lives have on this earth and the other people they interact with on a daily basis will only benefit because of Cosmic Education and Five Great Lessons. I feel that this is one area that really set Montessori apart from other forms of education.

  21. Being a parent of two growing children, I have come to observe their growing need for individual space. I have sometimes wondered that should this outlook overpower all the other aspects of their individuality, could that lead them to be more self-centered. I found the perfect answer to this when I took up NAMC Lower Elementary Course, and read about Cosmic Education. The beautiful vision of interrelatedness and interdependence is very gripping. This has given me insight on how to balance the need for ‘space’ at the same time, imbibe truth and each one is a part of the grand whole. The mainstream schools focus on science and math, leaving aside the humanities and end up compartmentalizing knowledge that children lose a holistic view. As a parent and as an educator, Cosmic Education has inspired me deeply. I have decided to make a conscious effort in pointing out the interrelatedness in academics, and also to stress on the interdependence to preserve harmony.

  22. Cosmic Education opens the mind in a way that supports the child's natural path of development. It peaks their interests in a way that expands the amount of knowledge they want to gain in a non intrusive way. It is very creatively planned and it serves the purpose of connecting the child to a greater awareness beyond themselves.

  23. I realized through reading this article that the Five Great Lessons entice children’s curiosity and inspire them to peruse further information through other subjects in the Montessori curriculum. The fact that these lessons are told in a story format is genius because they become more than just a history lesson. Through them children are inspired to delve deeper and amass more knowledge. I also see the connection between cosmic education and the Five Great Lessons. It is important that children explore their purpose in life as well as develop an awareness to those around them and how interconnected we all are. The Five Great Lessons are no doubt one of the most important parts of the Montessori curriculum. This blog post is very helpful because it outlines the foundations of the Montessori curriculum; “If the Five Great Lessons can be said to be the heart of Montessori elementary education, then cosmic education can be described as the soul.”

  24. I absolutely loved learning about the Five Great Lessons, and the Cosmic Education. I wish I had these lessons when I was growing up. The Five Great Lessons connect our students from the beginning, and help them tie to future lessons they will encounter throughout their lives. The Cosmic Lessons help them find their own voice, their place, and connection to the world. We are helping our students, our future citizens, pave their way to being role models, to discover themselves, seek more knowledge and understanding about themselves and the world.

  25. I like that from the study of the Five Great Lessons so many learning opportunities arise. It is true that The Five Great Lessons are the heart of Montessori education. Stimulating wonder and exploration in a child is the best education they can have and adding to that grace, courtesy and respect is a recipe for success.

  26. Five Great Lessons provides a "Big Picture" to demonstrate how the sciences, art, history, language, geography are interrelated. Through the Five Great Lessons, 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. Providing the children the history or part of what us now, makes them feel complete. It connects them and helps them understand the present and future situations. In this way, they learn to discover themselves and seek more answers to their questions that makes them more knowledgeable of a particular lesson.

  27. I just love how Maria Montessori supported the natural desire to understand our universe and being into lessons of great imaginative stories that entice the child to explore more!

  28. The more I read about the five great lessons, the more I am in awe! Imagine a child in the class receiving all these from the teacher!! I strongly believe that it is up to the teacher to make the lessons more exciting and interesting and inviting to share thoughts, questions, and feedbacks. Kids are great at that. They always ask questions and as a teacher we should expect those questions and answer them promptly.

  29. Beginning the year with the Five Great Lessons brings education back to its roots, to the very innate desires that the first people had to wonder about things in their world. Before there were schools and structured programs to teach this innate desire to figure things out and wonder is where all learning happened. I love the idea of opening our children minds up to this experience once again. We live in an amazingly intricate an complex world that requires understanding and care on all levels. The Five Great Lessons and Cosmic Education provide an integrated learning experience that builds upon innate learning desires to guide our children to discover, appreciate and care for the beautiful place we call home.

  30. I have a deep appreciation for this aspect of Montessori. Also, in my experience, it is something completely unique to Montessori. Has anybody seen anything similar to this in a more traditional setting?


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