Sunday, December 2, 2018

Montessori First Great Lesson - Notes

This year I am tutoring several boys whose parents have asked that I work on reading and writing. We don't want to "drill and kill" sight words -- and spelling word lists are silly anyway (I'm a big fan of SWI) -- but we want them more involved and comfortable with reading and writing. Our solution?

We are making Waldorf main lesson books about engaging Science and History topics, which they aren't getting in these public schools that only stress Math and Language Arts. Montessori's Five Great Lessons (and some people see The Story of the Great River as the Sixth) are the perfect choice.

With Waldorf you write first and then you learn to read by reading what you yourself have written (thus the book making). Writing had to exist before reading, so this approach follows the natural progression of human history.

The Great Lessons are so-called because they cover broad spans of history and science, sparking a child's interest in lots of different directions of potential follow up work. We have the luxury of time so we can go into any direction we wish, and we have the additional luxury of working one-on-one, so the activities can be perfectly tailored to the child. I'm very excited!

These are my notes for myself -- and they are a bit brief because I've been teaching these lessons for so long -- but I'm happy to share them and if you have any questions please ask and I'd be quite willing to explain more.

week 1
NAMC binder with demonstrations

  • The Formation of the Universe - large black balloon filled with air and a handful of silver confetti stars, pin

  • Light Comes to the Universe - candle, candleholder, match

  • Galaxies Form in the Universe - pie pan of water

  • The Size of the Sun and Earth - golden bead, red yoga ball

  • The Different Weights of Liquids - large straight sided canning jar, three smaller jars, honey, vegetable oil, water, blue food coloring

  • Solid, Liquid & Gas - three bowls, ice cubes, water it is nice to put some water in a tea kettle and watch it turn to steam
    it is also nice to put some water in a bowl and put it in the freezer; when it freezes a bit and there's a thin crust of ice but the inside is still liquid take it out and notice that the surface of that ice is wrinkly; this is just like the texture of the Earth's crust when it first cooled

  • The Earth's Surface - cast iron panini press, stove, spray bottle of water, hot pad spraying the hot pan with water and watching it sizzle and evaporate up is very effective; after you take it off the burner, spray it and watch the water stand and fill in the low parts of the panini press texture; this is just like the endless rains forming the Earth's oceans

week 2
read Older Than the Stars by Karen Fox

add to MLB or start calendar project artwork

  • front cover - single Sharpie dot on white 12 x 12 paper
    the Universe before the Big Bang
    "Everything... before it was anything"

  • January - toothbrush and splatter white paint on black 12 x 12 paper
    the stars

week 3
read How to Dig a Hole to the Other Side of the World by Faith McNulty

do the The Rock Cycle Mat from Waseca Biomes; look at the pieces of pumice which I picked up on my hike up Mt. Vesuvius in Italy (in 1993)

add to MLB or continue calendar project artwork

  • February - water soluble oil pastel on dark grey 12 x 12 paper
    the swirling colors of the still-molten Earth

  • March - blue paint cloud stencil on textured red 12 x 12 paper
    the endless rains

week 4
continue calendar project artwork

  • introduction - toothbrush and splatter white paint on black 12 x 12 paper, accented with dimensional glow in the dark paint dots and stenciled stars and galaxy swirls around cutout of the child's hand
    "I love you more than all the stars in the sky"

  • April - torn paper collage and cork pieces on orange 12 x 12 paper
    the Earth with green oceans, brown land, and an orange sky

  • May - misc. paper squares on green textured 12 x 12 paper
    the building blocks of life

  • June - an empty piece of 12 x 12 paper
    the still-empty ocean

In the Timeline of Life calendar, which we begin during the First Great lesson and finish in the next Great Lesson, each day in the calendar represents 13 million years in the life of our Earth. The child creates artwork showing what the planet looked like each month as time slowly passes. Ours was an empty planet until July 4th! My information on what evolved when according to this scale is from Early Humans by Michelle Breyer, and will definitely become out of date as scientists learn more about early Earth. However, it is still a valuable project for helping make the abstract more concrete to students.

Here are some pictures of sample artwork; click on any photo to enlarge it:

Sharpie dot
"Everything... before it was anything"

the Big Bang, the start of it all

the concept of the calendar and the scale


February art
the still-molten Earth cools
distinct layers inside form by the end of the month

March, the month of endless rains

H and O were being belched out of the volcanoes covering the restless Earth but rain that fell sizzled on the hot planet and immediately evaporated again

mid-way through April the Earth has cooled enough that oceans form
but this is still a very foreign world

May... the building blocks of life appear


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


Unknown said...

Hi there,

Thank you for sharing your work. I think it's wonderful and I'm very excited to learn from you!

Please let me know how much time you spend on each great lesson. I would like to follow your first Great Lesson from these notes and then refer to the rest. Is there a way you could email them to me please?

Many, many thanks!

Unknown said...

Hi there,

I don't check my google account often. Could you please reply to

And does this Great Lesson prep apply to age 9 - 12?

Thank you!

Renee said...

Thanks for your comments and questions!

Here's a little background on the Montessori Five Great Lessons. I do not lend my actual Montessori training binders but I do have a lending library and am happy to share the resources I use to supplment and follow up on the Great Lessons. Ideally in a Montessori school these lessons are done in the 6-9 year old classroom, every year. As it is a mixed age classroom, the children hear it three times and something new out of it sparks their interest each time. In the span of the first six weeks of school they are supposed to hear all five lessons. From there, they have the rest of the school year to do the follow up work in whatever order appeals to them, following their own interests.

For me, I am tutoring these boys so we are meeting one on one. I am following their interests after presenting the lessons and we are working together on a weekly basis. Also, because the public schools don't usually teach these topics so early, you can work with ages 9-12 and still have these be new and interesting and relevant to them. I did them at a special needs middle/high school with great success.

I don't have all of my notes for all of the lessons already written up, since I'm currently teaching them, so I can't just email you those. But I do have a lot of my previous notes written up, as well as the list of books I recommend for follow up and which I have in my lending library, here at my website: My Montessori Library.

Of course, I also am a consultant so if you want to work further one on one, just let me know!

Renee said...

And here's a LOT of background on the Great Lessons, including the wording of sample stories. Thank you, Miss Barbara, for sharing this information to the greater community for so many years!