Teaching the great lessons.

What are the Montessori Five Great Lessons?

Tue, December 31 2019

Every year the primary aged children (aged 6-12) are retold The 5 Great Lessons (or Cosmic Education as it was called by Maria Montessori).  But what are they?  The Great Lessons are one of the most important teaching structures used in the primary years. The lessons underpin the curriculum and lay the path way for the children to learn about the concept of evolution, creative thinking, exploration, experimentation, science, understanding their place in the world and the circle of life along with much more.


Cosmic education

Cosmic Education or The Great Lessons are an important and unique part of the Montessori curriculum. These lessons are bold, exciting, and are designed to awaken a child’s imagination and curiosity. The child should be struck with the wonder of creation, thrilled with new ideas, and awed by the inventiveness and innovation that is part of the human spirit.

“Montessori uses its Five Great Lessons as an introduction to all topics, providing 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.”

The Five Great Lessons are traditionally presented in early primary (ie. 6-9) and are presented every year so that children see them more than once. Unlike the 3-6 environment, where the child is introduced first to “small” ideas that gradually widen into larger concepts, the primary child is introduced right away to large concepts - the largest of all being the beginning of the universe. Then they can be shown how all the smaller ideas fit into the larger framework.

There are Five Great Lessons that are used to paint a broad picture before moving to more specific study. 

1. First Great Lesson - Coming of the Universe and the Earth 
2. Second Great Lesson - Coming of Life 
3. Third Great Lesson - Coming of Human Beings 
4. Fourth Great Lesson - Communication in Signs 
5. Fifth Great Lesson - The Story of Number 


First great lesson: Coming of the universe and the earth

The First Great Lesson is the most memorable and tells the story of the beginning of the universe. This lesson includes some demonstrations using solids and liquids to show how the continents and oceans first came together.

This lesson leads to the study of:

  • Astronomy: solar system, stars, galaxies, comets, constellations.
  •  Meteorology: wind, currents, weather, fronts, erosion, water cycle, clouds, glaciers.
  • Chemistry: states of matter, changes, mixtures, reactions, elements, atoms, periodic table, compounds, molecules, chemical formulas, equations, lab work, experimentation.
  • Physics: magnetism, electricity, gravity, energy, light, sound, heat, friction, motion, experimentation.
  • Geology: types of rocks, minerals, land forms, volcanoes, earthquakes, plate tectonics, ice ages, eras of the earth
  • Geography: maps, globes, latitude/longitude, climates, land/water form names, continent and country research.


The second great lesson: Coming of life

The Second Great Lesson involves the coming of life. This lesson revolves around the Timeline of Life, a long chart with pictures and information about microorganisms, plants, and animals that have lived (or now live) on the earth. The great diversity of life is emphasised, and special care is paid to the “jobs” that each living thing does to contribute to life on earth.

This lesson leads to the study of:

  • Biology: cells, organised groups, five kingdoms, specimens, dissection, observation, use of microscope
  • Botany: study of plants, classification, functions, parts of plants (seed, fruit, leaf, stem, root, flower), types of plants
  • Habitats: location, characteristics, food chains/webs, symbiosis, adaptation, ecosystems, conservation
  • Ancient Life: eras of the earth, evolution, extinction, fossil records, excavation
  • Animals: classification, needs, similarities/differences, human systems, nutrition, hygiene
  • Monera, Protista, and Fungi Kingdoms: what they are, classification, observation.


A child working


The third great lesson: Coming of human beings

The next Great Lesson is the Coming of Human Beings. A timeline is presented with a tool and a human hand to talk about the three gifts that make humans special: a mind to imagine, a hand to do work, and a heart that can love. This lesson will lead children to study the beginning of civilisations and the needs of early humans.

This lesson leads to the study of:

  • History: timelines, prehistory, ancient civilisations, world history, history of specific countries and continents.
  • Culture: art, artists, music, composers, dance, drama, architecture, design, philosophy, religion, grace and courtesy.
  • Social Studies: current events, government, economics, commerce, volunteering & charity. 
  • Discovery & Invention: scientists, inventors, scientific method, inventions, simple machines.


The fourth great lesson: The story of writing

Sometimes called Communication in Signs, in the Fourth Lesson, the story of the development of the written alphabet is told, with an emphasis on the incredible ability that humans have of committing their thoughts to paper. Included in the story are pictographs, symbols, hieroglyphs, early alphabets, and the invention of the printing press.

This lesson leads to the study of:

  • Reading: literature, poetry, non-fiction, myths and folk tales, authors, reading comprehension, reading analysis, literary terms.
  • Writing: elements of style, function, voice, composition, letter writing, research, study skills.
  • Language: origins of spoken language, foreign languages, history of languages, speech, drama
  • Structure: alphabets, bookmaking, grammar, punctuation, sentence analysis, word study, figures of speech.


The fifth great lesson: The story of numbers

The last of the lessons is the Fifth Great Lesson: The Story of Numbers, also called the History of Mathematics. This lesson begins with the earliest civilisations, who often only had “one”, “two”, and “more than two” as their numeric system. It continues with a look at different numbering systems throughout the centuries, culminating in the decimal system that we use today.

This lesson leads to the study of:

  • Mathematics: operations, fractions, decimals, multiples, squares, cubes, percentages, ratio, probability, intro to algebra
  • Numbers: origins of numbers and systems, bases, types of numbers, scientific notation, mathematicians
  • Geometry: congruency, similarity, nomenclature of lines, angles, shapes, solids, measurement, theorems
  • Application: story problems, measurement, estimation, graphs, patterning, rounding, money concepts.


The great lessons as a unifying theme

These five stories encompass an enormous amount of information about the origins of the world around us. When each story is shared, it should never be left alone - there should always be further study open to the children so that the story becomes the springboard but not the focus. The stories can be referred to throughout the year when new topics are introduced, as a way of providing unity and cohesion to such a wide variety of studies.

Go to Top