Separate from the vast number of presentations given to children over their tenure from the Toddler to the Junior classroom, Montessori identified six Great Lessons, given in the second plane of development (between the ages of 6 and 12). In a sense, they are stories. At a time when a child’s development is making full use of a burgeoning imagination, beyond the here and now and into the vastness of space and time, these lessons are meant to capture the child with an impressionistic presentation. They are an opening of a curtain to the drama of the universe.
The first Great Lesson is a Creation Story or its alternative, Life and Its Beginnings, which is the Montessori version of the Big Bang. This leads the child into discussions and work in geology, astronomy, and history. The second Great Lesson is the Story of Life, which uses the Timeline of Life as the chief material to present the evolution of life on Earth, from the early Paleozoic to the present day. This is followed by the Story of Humans, a lesson which employs two timelines, the first examining humans from the early australopithecines to Homo sapiens sapiens and the second inviting further study into just the last 25,000 years. The fourth Great Lesson is the Story of Communication, sometimes referred to as the History of Writing. A series of pictures and descriptions accompany this study, but it is also expected to be woven into the study of all subjects, including language, certainly, but into other curricular areas as well. Similarly, the fifth Great Lesson is the Story or History of Math. Much of this lesson is present in the myriad math and geometry presentations that explore the history of a particular concept at the same time that its presentation is given. These two lessons open up the study of ancient civilizations. And lastly, the sixth Great Lesson is The Great River, a metaphor for the human body system. The Great Lessons integrate and spark an interest in all areas of our classrooms and are part of a larger framework that Montessori referred to as “cosmic education.