Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Montessori Third Great Lesson - Notes

Montessori teachers for Lower Elementary -- and I'm no exception -- casually toss off references to the Great Lessons all the time. "Oh, that's part of the Fourth Great Lesson." It used to drive me crazy when I was new and couldn't tell them apart, and other veteran teachers would do that. Now I talk like that and don't even notice. They're as familiar to me as breathing!

There are tons of comments about the Six Montessori Great Lessons sprinkled all throughout the 1500+ posts in my blog. They are done every year in Lower Elementary (mixed age class, ages 6-9). So here I'm trying to assemble some more precise, and chronological, notes since I am currently going through them more slowly one-on-one with tutoring clients.

This post is a continuation of my previous two; I have each of the Great Lessons as a tag in my blog posts so you can search for ideas that way; I also have book suggestions on my website under My Montessori Library.

Montessori First Great Lesson - How the Earth and Universe Came to Be

Montessori Second Great Lesson - How Life Came to Be

The Third Great Lesson topic is How Humans Came to Be. In older resources it is also sometimes referred to as The Coming of Man.


week 1
recall the Tree of Life wooden puzzle and fact file cards from Waseca Biomes

read Grandmother Fish: A Child's First Book of Evolution by Jonathan Tweet

lay out The Human Evolution Card Set from Clocca Concepts

overlay and compare shape of tracing paper skulls (traced from the book Early Humans by Michelle Breyer)

    Ape skull, page 111
    Australopithecus skull, page 112
    Homo Habilis skull, page 122
    Homo Erectus skull, page 129
    Neandertal skull, page 145
    Cro-Magnon and Modern Human skull, page 154

hold and compare weight of jars of rice, set out tracing paper skulls and rice jars by the correct hominid cards on the Human Evolution Card timeline

    dried rice in half gallons jars to show the capacity of the brain, labeled as follows (1 cc is approximately equal to 1 mL rice)

    Australopithecus 500 cc

    Homo Habilis 800 cc

    Homo Erectus 1100 cc

    Homo Sapiens 1500 cc

watch the awesome human migration map Journey of Mankind: The Peopling of the World from The Bradshaw Foundation (for me this only works on Firefox, but it's definitely worth the hassle of downloading another browser)


week 2
recall the Human Evolution card timeline, tracing paper skulls, and rice jars

tell the story of The Coming of Man with artifacts

  • oyster shell
  • deer antlers
  • rabbit skin
  • koala fur and leather drawstring pouch
  • pine needle baskets
  • shell buttons
  • wheat stalks

play the Hunters and Gatherers Simulation Game from Early Humans, pages 133-140


week 3
recall the Hunter-Gatherer Simulation Game, draft two page spread for MLB

add termite mound construction paper collage illustration inspired by artwork in insectlopedia by Douglas Florian and Animal Architects: Amazing Animals Who Build Their Homes by Julio Antonio Blasco and Daniel Nassar


week 4
recall early human nomadic life, do "A Look at Terra Amata" activity from Early Humans, pages 130-131

review the green dots on the Journey of Mankind map, do agriculture experiments with plant items of your choice (thoroughly moisten a paper towel, fold in half and place a possible seed inside, place in a ziploc bag and zip shut, set in a warm and summy spot, check periodically for germination)

    we chose:

    orange seed
    wheat berries
    grains of black forbidden rice
    grains of white arborio rice
    grains of brown ride


week 5
open ziploc bags and look at results of seed experiments

add Terra Amata activity artwork and words of explanation to MLB

read When Cave Men Painted by Norman Bate

make cave art on pastel paper with willow charcoal and chalk pastels


week 6
recall cave art, watch Lascaux Cave Paintings - Virtual Tour on Vimeo and watch for the exact cave painting from the story When Cave Men Painted

add cave art and words of explanation to MLB


Note: I don't yet own this but my next purchase towards this lesson is the Paleolithic Stone Tool Kit from Clocca Concepts ($125.00).

This post contains affiliate links to materials I truly use for homeschooling. Qualifying purchases provide me with revenue. Thank you for your support!

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Teaching about Money

Money, like all the other forms of Measurement, isn't something you just teach about once. Here are a few places it shows up in the Waldorf method:

    Grade 3 - Trade Goods and the Development of Currency

    Grade 4 - Local History, Geography & Industry

    Grade 5 - Decimals

    Grade 6 - Business Math (Ratios, Percents, Formulas, Graphs)

    Grade 7 - The Stock Market Game

    Grade 8 - World Economics


As with everything in Waldorf, doing deep interdisciplinary topics of study allows for concepts to be revisted, reviewed and extended in new ways as they are interwoven with other content.

In the third grade Math theme "The Maths of Practical Life" (which accompanies topics such as "Fibers & Clothing" and "Housebuilding"), students learn about how money evolved from the barter system. They learn the value of our coins and bills and practice counting money.

In the fourth grade Local History & Geography theme of looking at the place where you live and what its history is, studying the industries is an important part. The sample 4th grade Live Education! lesson demonstrates this. Is your region famous for timber? Farming? Coal? Gold? I grew up along the Chesapeake Bay where the local industries came from the water (crabbing, oyster tonging) as well as tobacco farming. These are all studied at this time.

In my homeschool co-op, we are also doing the fourth grade Tall Tales block in Language Arts, where we look at local folklore from around the country. Figures like Captain Kidd, Pecos Bill, Mike Fink, Johnny Appleseed, Paul Bunyan, John Henry and Finn MacCool are very much a part of their region, and help to bring to life what industries were important back then.

In fifth grade Decimals are brought in as a Math topic, building on the introduction of Fractions in fourth grade. In this block, which Torin Finser writes about in detail in School as a Journey: The Eight-Year Odyssey of a Waldorf Teacher and His Class, students learn about the decimal point and how to do addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division with decimals.

In sixth grade students practice writing Business Letters in Language Arts and do Business Math as their math subject, such as calculating percents when giving a tip or making a commission on a sale. This reviews the steps in operations with decimals but takes the ideas still further.

In seventh grade last year my students played The Stock Market Game as one of their math projects... and all of this is leading up to a deep study of World Geography & Economics in eighth grade.


So, if you have a multi-age homeschool co-op, you have some decisions to make about Money. Will you offer all of these concepts to the entire class and let people enter into it as they wish, or break apart the topic and give one kind of lesson to one set of children and another kind of lesson to another set of children? There are no easy answers to this. Here's my plan:

We will go from our Tall Tales block into Trade Goods and the Development of Currency, revisiting some of the commodities which were sought after in our stories such as coal and gold. We will likely begin with the Gold Rush as a transition. We will use Betsy Maestro's book The Story of Money to guide us.

We will look at the coins and bills of our country and practice counting them, as well as looking at money from foreign lands. John Edward Maher's vintage book Ideas about Choosing follows next, with a deeper discussion of goods and services and economic choices. My students who are interested in doing math problems with money will have the Montessori Decimal Stamp Game to aid them. This hands-on color-coded Math material is simply wonderful!

Lastly, some of my younger students observed the older children playing The Stock Market Game last year and are very interested in exploring it, so I will likely offer this as an option as well. We can continue to play it through the last day of school. The vintage card game Pit is a very fun entrance into this topic! Note: This game is best with a group of more than three people.


This post contains affiliate links to materials I truly use for homeschooling. Qualifying purchases provide me with revenue. Thank you for your support!

Monday, March 4, 2019

Finishing Up Fibers & Clothing

Here are some notes from our final few days of Fibers & Clothing, as well as a bunch of photos from our lessons during this super-fun main lesson block!

Week 1: Wool Experiments, Washing Molly's Raw Wool, Carding & Spinning, Wet Felting

Week 2: Natural Dyes, Mohair & Cashmere, Yarn Store Field Trip, Silk, Crochet Special Guest

Week 3: Weaving, Angora, Camel, Spinning Special Guest, Flax & Hemp, Hemp & Indigo Field Trip

Week 4: Cotton Special Guest, Alpaca Farm Field Trip


Monday, February 25
We wrapped this block up early since I had to travel to a conference at the end of the week. On Monday we had two special guests, both certified as Master Gardeners AND Master Naturalists, visit the classroom to teach us about Cotton. They even brought us cotton seeds to plant in our garden at the school! We've already begun to germinate a few of them.

Tuesday, February 26
On Tuesday we travelled to Rolling Oak Alpaca Ranch in Makanda IL for a very special private tour. We got to pet and feed the alpacas, see a skirting table and a drum carder and a loom and a spinning wheel (this one was Castle; the other one we saw in week 3 was Saxony), and hear about how they work with their fiber to make products for sale. They dye their own alpaca fiber, have goats on the property and make goat milk soaps then wet felt them with alpaca roving, etc. They also talked about sending the fiber to different mills for processing. It was a wonderful way to wrap up this block!

Here are all of my remaining photos from this Fibers & Clothing study:


making wet felted soap stones

our field trip to The Yarn Shoppe in Herrin IL

watching the yarn winder

checking on our crockpot dyeing experiment
white wool batting + white vinegar + 4 beets

the students were quite surprised at the resulting color

the wool batting for comparison: before & after

it's such a beautiful rich golden brown!

our Crochet special guest, Anna O'Neil

helping a student one-on-one

these girls are knitting at the same speed 
they work on finishing up and stuffing their lions

and adding the super-cute manes

our ground and water elements are finished in our collaborative tapestry
now we will weave in the stormy sky

giving a friend a lesson on how to make knitting needles

relaxing for some Handwork time

helping a younger friend sew up her finished chicken 

soooo adorable!!!

looking at the materials from our Silk Discovery Kit
and some books about the Silk Road

learning how to draw a rabbit

our lovely angora fiber

exploring the potholder looms and loops
Handwork supplies are always available in the classroom

experimenting with a popsicle stick as a weaving tool

"I'm going to go over and under"

a friend sits in on the first Knitting lesson

careful concentration

Under the fence,
Catch the sheep,
Back we come,
Off we leap

our Spinning special guest, Lorrie Killion

the Saxony spinning wheel

she attaches our flax top to the distaff
and show us how to spin it into linen yarn

next she spins some of our angora fiber into yarn

she has to hold her hands much closer together
since angora has shorter fibers

time for the drop spindle lesson!

I'm new to this too, so I have my own drop spindle
we are all excited and ready to learn

each child gets a drop spindle to keep

helping a student one-on-one

showing us other kinds of spindles from around the world

our raw hemp seeds from the grocery store have germinated

and so have our raw flax seeds

pulling the fiber out of a cotton boll

we are introduced to the alpacas at 
Rolling Oak Alpaca Ranch in Makanda IL

we get to go inside the pen and feed them beet pulp

the skirting table

we learn about how alpaca fiber is graded using its thickness in microns

the drum carder

the loom

the Castle spinning wheel

lots of lovely things are for sale in their shop
open Wednesdays!


A BIG THANK YOU to all of the local small business owners who generously allowed us to visit their locations...

to all of the very talented people who came in to share their expertise as special guests...

to all of the students for their attention and hard work...

to all of the parents for their support...

and to Miss Flossie for helping me with the transportation!