Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Five Great Lessons for Montessori Elementary: An Introduction and Lesson Idea List

Our goal is not so much the imparting of knowledge as the unveiling and developing of spiritual energy. - Maria Montessori, The Child in the Family
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The Five Great Lessons is a group of impressionistic stories that are meant to provide elementary Montessori students with a “big picture” of the world and life. At this stage of development, children are becoming aware of the world and their place in it. For a child, the Great Lessons are more than just educational and inspirational stories. They spark the imagination and lead students to contemplate not only the past, but the future. It is through the telling (and re-telling) of these important Cosmic lessons that students are motivated to further research and works in the Montessori classroom.

Each of the Great Lessons serves to initiate student exploration and discovery. While children develop an awareness of the natural world and its laws, they are also moved to explore topics such as history, geography, math, science and language. Most importantly, the Great Lessons develop in Montessori students reverence and gratitude for those who have come before us.

Because of the importance and wealth of information that can be discovered in each lesson, it is important, therefore, not to rush through them, but to give ample time in between for research on the topics presented in the lessons. Here is a list of possible topics that can be explored for each of the Five Great Lessons:

The Five Great Lessons for Montessori Elementary: An Introduction and Lesson Idea List

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The First Great Lesson: The Beginning of the Universe and Earth
  • The Universe
  • The Solar System
  • Composition of the Earth
  • Volcanoes
  • Rocks
  • Chemistry: The Three States of Matter
  • Creation Stories
The Second Great Lesson: Life Comes to Earth
  • Bacteria
  • Plants (classification and parts of: ferns, conifers, and flowering plants)
  • Fossils
  • Trilobites
  • Dinosaurs
  • Living and Nonliving
  • Classification Work
  • Kingdom Animalia (Classification and parts of: insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals)
  • Oceans and Ocean Life
  • Supercontinents (Pangaea, Laurasia, Gondwanaland)
  • Continents
  • Mountains
  • Oxygen & Carbon Dioxide
The Third Great Lesson: Humans Come to Earth
  • Ancient Civilizations
  • Fundamental Needs
  • The History of:
    • Tools
    • Food preparation and Storage
    • Clothing
    • Shelter
    • Transportation
    • Medicine
    • Defense
    • Art
    • Religion/Spirituality
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The Fourth Great Lesson: How Writing Began
  • History of Writing
  • Hieroglyphic and Cuneiform Writing
  • Different Alphabets
  • Different Writing Systems (letters and characters)
  • Ancient Civilizations
  • The Printing Press
The Fifth Great Lesson: How Numbers Began
  • History of Numbers
  • History of Mathematics
  • Different Number Systems
  • How ‘zero’ came to be
  • The invention of the Calendar
  • Systems and Units of Measurement
  • Economic Geography
As you can see, there is plenty of material to cover in between the telling of the Lessons. While it is important to tell the First Great Lesson as early in the year as possible, time should be left between the Great Lessons to give students the opportunity to explore the information contained within them. Rushing through the Great Lessons bombards children with information, thus negating the importance of that knowledge. It is important to remember that  while all of the Great Lessons should be told in the beginning of every year, the lessons found within the Montessori cultural curriculum may be rotated over a three year cycle.

Related NAMC Blogs:
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.
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 Thursday, September 10, 2009.


  1. I just came across this post about the Great Lessons, and am wondering about the comment:

    "It is important to remember that not all of these lessons need be given every year, but should be rotated over your three year cycle."

    I have read a few albums that state the Great Lessons should be completed in 6 to 8 weeks. Is this the norm?

  2. Hi Cristina,

    Thank you for bringing that to my attention. I have revised the final sentence in the final paragraph to clarify any confusion. I certainly appreciate your attention to this!


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