Don’t forget about the big questions

Dear Friends,

In Montessori circles, you will hear the term “Cosmic Education”  used.  In many ways, Cosmic Education lies at the heart of Montessori philosophy.  Its aim is to present a curriculum and learning environment in a way that captures the child’s imagination and reveals the interconnectedness of all things.  Categories, subjects of study, and classifications are  specialized and important ways to think about the world, however, at life’s core, these boundaries are more fluid, blurred and symbiotic.  One of the most profound ways of understanding this is through the old cliche, but astonishing truth, that we are all made from stars.  The particles in our bodies have been in existence for billions of years. They will persist for billions of years after we move on.  And these particles were all forged in the nuclear fusion fires of stars. We truly are made of stardust.  


Like all profound and mind-rattling truths, they are hard to comprehend.  Hard to process.  To help with this, we create stories.  Dr. Maria Montessori developed the 5 Great Lessons.  (The Coming of the Universe, The Coming of Life, The Coming of Human Beings, The Story of Writing and the Story of Numbers).  These stories are imaginative retellings of how everything came to be.  They are a mixture of science, symbolism, and personification.  They try to appeal to the child’s love of story, creativity, and desire to know the answers to some of life’s most perplexing questions.  In short, they try to capture life as a whole and inherently instill in the child how they are intimately a part of the whole.  They are not separate from it.  When they learn about the Universe, they are quite literally learning about themselves and everything else.  


Some of our students have been exploring our solar system recently.  They took a field trip to the planetarium, memorized the names and order of planets and were introduced to theories around gravity and the origin of the Universe.  Other students have explored rocket building and are preparing to launch their own miniature versions in the coming weeks.  


What struck me, as I sat in on some lessons or heard the teachers describe what they were doing during team meetings, was the refreshing perspective the “big questions” provide in a world of categories and specialization.  How did the Universe begin?  What is gravity? Where did we come from?  How did language and mathematics develop?  These questions, which are standard in a Montessori classroom, pull us out of our important but limiting scope of focus and provide a wider lens which conjures up a sense of belonging. It allows us to say,  I am biologically, scientifically, and miraculously part of an unfolding mystery.  And this creates a desire to learn more and feel a moral obligation to care for each other and all the world.  


I hope you have an amazing weekend. It is supposed to be a beautiful one. With it getting darker earlier, it provides a great opportunity to lie on a blanket in the backyard with your children, gaze up at the stars, and ask yourself some big questions!


Jeff Groh

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