Great Lessons Overview

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 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

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.