Cosmic Education in the Lower Elementary Classroom
“When a child was very small it was enough to call him by
name for him to turn around. Now we must appeal to his soul… We
must give him grandeur. To begin with, let us present him the world.”
– Dr. Maria Montessori, From Childhood to Adolescence
Cosmic Education begins with the child who has taken a
step beyond questioning “What?” to wonder, “Why? How?
When?” This same child has refocused her vision from clearly seeing
her family as the basis of the world to viewing it as one magnified
part of a larger world. She ponders what her place is in that larger
world. The slim book of time she once carried with the single page reading
“Present” now holds an infinitely greater number of pages
with the addition of “Past” and “Future.” She
does not tire from the knowledge she has gained, as her spirit is boundless.
She craves an understanding of herself and all that she sees. She thinks
about the things that she cannot see. She wonders, “What is good?
What are the rules, and who makes them?”
How does one present a child with the world? Cosmic Education aims to
plant the seeds of the child’s own culture, all of humanity, and
all of nature, so she may see the interdependency of the universe and
gain a sense of belonging and respect in knowing she is not here by
herself but with others. Through imagination, the child is able to envision
the whole which provides a framework for integration of further knowledge.
In To Educate the Human Potential, Dr. Maria Montessori wrote, “We
cannot understand a stone without some understanding of the great sun!
No matter what we touch, an atom, or a cell, we cannot explain it without
knowledge of the wide universe.”
Through a series of Great Lessons, the child is offered a panoramic
view of the universe and human history. The child is, in a true sense,
presented with the world. The first of the Great Lessons explores creation
stories and the origins of the universe, while lessons to follow present
the beginnings of life on earth, the development of humans, and explorations
of writing and mathematics through time. Each Great Lesson is presented
in a highly impressionistic and dramatic manner, instilling a sense
of wonder in the child of her own connectedness with the cosmic process.
The principles in these lessons offer countless avenues for the child’s
exploration and provide a context for the study of details.
While the Great Lessons demonstrate the order that is innate in the
universe and the gifts that humanity has passed on to us, they also
present a holistic vision of knowledge from which the disciplines naturally
emerge and eventually return. For example, the history of writing in
Egypt is connected to clay tablets from the riverbanks of the Nile.
The Nile is connected to geography and geometry, as a three-four-five
triangle was used to survey the land following the floods. Flooding
is connected to flora and fauna and to papyrus, the writing paper eventually
used to record the history. In such a way, Cosmic Education provides
an overview to stimulate the child’s rich imagination by tying
together the details of the disciplines for language, mathematics, geometry,
geography, art, history, zoology, botany, and science.
The early elementary Montessori classroom offers a prepared environment
where the child has freedom to choose the work that interests her at
her own individual level. A variety of hands-on, self-correcting materials
are available to encourage the child’s independence, personal
responsibility, and spontaneity, while providing a frame of reference
for her exploration. The classroom provides a community of workers with
freedom of movement and choice where the child may begin to realize
her cosmic task while working alongside her classmates.
What is the child’s cosmic task? As the universe is collaborating
in the still evolving creation of everything that is, every element
of nature performs a task in maintaining a balance in the universe.
The child’s task is the same as each element of nature, to fulfill
the instinctual need to exist through survival and to contribute to
the total harmony of the universe through meaningful work.
Just as the child is presented the world through the Great Lessons and
in exploring the disciplines that emerge from them, the world presents
itself to the child in what Dr. Montessori described as “going
out.” As the child begins to view herself as a part of a larger
whole, her interest in all of creation grows. In From Childhood to Adolescence,
Dr. Montessori wrote, “Let us take the child out to show him real
things instead of making objects which represent ideas and closing them
in cupboards.” Through outings the child may discover her place
with nature and the social community.
The purpose of Cosmic Education is to interest the child, to invite
freedom, independence, and fulfillment of potential. It embraces the
understanding that answers must be divined from within. Cosmic Education
fosters a sense of respect and gratitude for all of creation that will
ultimately lead to the child’s discovery of reality.
“All things are part of the universe, and are connected with
each other to form one whole unity. The idea helps the mind of the child
to become focused, to stop wandering in an aimless quest for knowledge.
He is satisfied having found the universal centre of himself with all
things.” -Maria Montessori, To Educate the Human Potential