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The presentations excerpted below opened the Parent Education evening, September 24, 1998, on Cosmic Education.
If you imagine - or remember - an infant coming into the world, you can appreciate that one of her first interests is to figure out what's going on here. What is all this stuff? What is everyone doing? How do things work? What comes next?
She uses her senses, her hands and her ability to move to explore the real world. We hope she can fully engage with the natural and the human world, with rich, abundant language, with the many varieties of social relationships, and with purposeful work done to achieve comprehensible ends. We hope she finds routines and order that affirm her growing expectations that the real world around her makes sense.
The immediacy, the here-and-now nature of Children's House truly answers these needs of the young child. She is building her understanding of the world as she explores, and she is also building herself. Her attraction for work develops her will and her successes build confidence. Her fascination with purposeful tasks leads her to concentrate intently and to repeat work often. Her interest in tiny details encourages her to work with ever-increasing care.
As the child grows more conscious, she is able to reflect on her experiences; she can compare, categorize, and order her impressions. If order and logic are apparent in her environment, she can use them to build logical and orderly habits of thought. Work can be designed to provide logical keys to sensory impressions, to math, to language, and to other areas of knowledge. Children's House activities allow children to bring their impressions to consciousness in a systematic way and help them to extend their understanding of reality in activities that remain sensory, manipulative and movement-oriented.
When children have ample opportunities to explore and conditions that encourage them to develop a deep and conscious relationship with reality, they will be able to build on that foundation. The cosmic lessons of the elementary level will reach children who are ready to receive them.
Montessori's philosophy of the child is based on the premise that there are four distinct levels or planes which distinguish the development of the child from birth to adulthood. Each of these planes is subject to differing characteristics that assume ascendancy in that period. All humans, whatever their culture, arc subject to certain fundamental needs and also have certain fundamental tendencies.
Montessori believed that an education that met the needs of the child at each developmental stage would create a transformed person, a person who would understand his relationship to the gifts of the past, and be an eager contributor to the future by living a responsible conscious present. Such a child would see and eventually appreciate his place in the whole cosmic plan. She believed that history (not only human history) showed that the universe has evolved and is evolving in such a way that there is a growth of love observable in the universe.
The child between the ages of 6 and 12 is characterized by a very high energy, both physical and intellectual, and a special facility for imaging or imagining. This is the child we see in EI, a child who is interested in many things and whose spirit is boundless.
How to educate this aware, reasonable and understanding child who comes to us from Children's House. One must meet his basic needs at each level of growth and it is necessary to take advantage of the characteristics of each developmental level.
Montessori said that we must give these 6 to 12-year olds the universe. We must plant the seeds of the child's own culture and of all humanity, so that he might see himself in relation to not only his own self interest, but to society at large. We present the seeds of all the disciplines during this period when the child's energy is so abundant and before the onset of puberty. We stimulate his rich imagination by tying together the details of the disciplines of mathematics, language, geography and geology with history, and physics and chemistry. All this is presented in an age-appropriatc, integrated manner. We also strive to stimulate his rich ability to imagine by tying the details of the ordinary subjects always to a bigger picture. We introduce the four "cosmic fables" which contain within them the potential to relate the child's world to the cosmic task. These simple tales help the child order the universe by helping him relate to two true facts: the order that is innate in the universe and the gifts that humanity has already passed to us. These tales are introduced at six and continually reviewed through the next six years with increased opportunity for maturity and understanding. Thus we offer an integrated curriculum, so that the child who wants to know why is helped to see the interrelationships as well as the facts of the disciplines of language, mathematics, geography and history, physics and chemistry, and music and art.
If we are to create responsible, productive, and conscious adults, we must help our children to see themselves as related to the past (a vertical connection through time and history) and to the present to develop themselves that they might desire to be responsible contributors to their own time and hence to the future.
Cosmic Education is our curriculum. It is all that we do to assist the child from age 6-12! The child is presented with the unity of the universe through the belief that since all aspects are related, the study of the parts will lead to an understanding of the whole. This understanding of the interconnectedness is the foundation of Cosmic Education. Dr. Montessori reminded us that we must trust in the power of the human intellect so the organizing power of the intellect can work. We must trust in the child. We must trust in this thing called Cosmic Education. We do not offer a chopped up, adult-centered curriculum. We work to arouse the child's interest because we believe that sooner and sometimes later, the understanding of all aspects will come together. Cosmic Education helps the child to understand the laws and order underlying his or her potential and to accept personal responsibility for society.
Through stories we introduce countless unknown inventors, those persons who paved the way for the life we live today. Because they are unknown it seems that every person throughout history has made a contribution to society. This brings the child to realize that she too is a participant in the drama of the universe and she has no substitute. The children see that they have a role in life that we call their cosmic task. All of Cosmic Education is designed to assist children to discover their cosmic task.
Cosmic education is introduced through a series of stories, the Great Lessons. These stories were designed to inspire further questions and intentionally do not tell all of the story They tease at the imagination and intellect of the child and they set the stage for all further learning. The first tells of the creation of our universe. It is the story of our solar system. It lays out laws of physics, states of matter and the formation of our home, planet earth. The second story, "The Coming of Life," is a story of gratitude. It tells of all the life beginning with the protozoans that had to come into being, had to live and die before humans could arrive on the scene.
The next great lesson tells of the "Coming of the Human Beings." It speaks of the great gifts that have been bestowed upon us. We have been granted a great intellect. We can think! We can wonder... what makes the wind blow? Next, we can love. Sure we can think of animals that appear to love. "I'm certain my dog loves me." But the love of humans is different. We can love our mothers, our fathers, all the members that make up our families, we love our school. But what makes humans really unique is that we are capable of loving people we don't even know. We show concern for our friend's grandparent, we care about flood victims, and for people who do not have enough food. The final gift discerned in the story of the coming of humans is that of the hand. Endowed with the intellect, the hand allows us to change our environment! With our great intellect it allows us to adapt to our environment. That's why we don't have to fly south in the winter. Perhaps that's why we walk on two feet, so our hands are free to create!
Out of that intellect and the work of the hand come our final two stories, "The Story of Numbers" and "The Story of Language" These stories give the necessary background for the understanding of the study of mathematics and writing.
These great lessons provide the basis of Cosmic Education because they provide inspiration. The great lessons are very grand and somewhat solemn. They are comprehensive but not all-encompassing. They are designed to appeal to the imagination so as to open the door to the child's exploration. The great lessons are not limited to a specific subject. They are interconnected subjects that contain elements from all. Maria Montessori believed that genuine interest cannot be forced. We give knowledge to the point where a child's interest is aroused. In theory, we cosmic educators do not present the traditional subjects as subjects to be studied. Yes, we present math, grammar, geography, geometry, history, and so on, but we do not present them for the isolated sake of presentation. They are presented as key lessons that follow the great lessons.
Key lessons are often technical or skill based. They are called key lessons because those lessons open the doors to culture, to rooms full of facts, details and further questions. Without key lessons there is no way to get all that culture has to offer. They also help children to know what they have to know to meet societal standards. I like to think of it like this: children are their own galaxy. They are traveling at their own speed, orbiting in their own realm. The great lessons are like the Big Bang. They set it all in motion. I like to think of key lessons as vital space stations that supply and sometimes re-supply each child with the necessary supplies for further exploration.
Maria Montessori refers to the core of the elementary program as sowing the seeds of Cosmic Education - allowing the children to explore the limitless dimensions of the Universe. Central to the adolescent program is to look at how these seeds take root. Some seeds grow quickly while others lay dormant, only to germinate later in life.
The adolescents' task is to find their place in the Cosmos, in society. The first concrete step is realizing that they are members of a community - this school - and that maintaining community takes work. There is a distinct change in the child as they enter adolescence. Their personalities change. They turn inward, away from adults. They become territorial of their place and their friends. This makes the task for the adults working with them a little more difficult. It is our task as educators, parents and friends to guide the adolescents in becoming citizens and embarking on their journey into adulthood.
This journey for us begins on an Odyssey, an extended adventure filled with hardships and challenges. This year we took the students on an Odyssey of origins - into the lives of the ancient pueblo people of the Southwestern United States through the study of archaeology. Through this trip students become interconnected and learn to think with and for the community. Each day we discuss how things went, what we liked and how we can improve.
" ... everybody has to work together to make the odyssey possible. Even the teachers. People open up to each other and almost all problems are solved." Joe Reeves
"The Odyssey challenges us all and forces us to work together to survive. For example, cook crew won't work if everyone cooks for themselves. We have to work as a community. Like Mr. Schaefer says, 'the needs of the group come before your own." Shal Ngo
"I learned that first impressions don't mean very much and you should get to know the person before you make assumptions about them. And you shouldn't sit next to people you can't work well with even if they are your friend." Meggie Goebel
It is in the words of these adolescents that we see that they have come to realize that making community is part of their cosmic task.
We return together from the Odyssey to continue the greater journey of the adolescents, only now we have come home, to the place that is ours. We continue the adolescents' cosmic task in this place. We must provide an environment for the adolescent to explore, to question, to challenge, to struggle, to feet safe and protected and to encourage the blossoming of their personality.
Maria Montessori felt that the adolescents need a program "both broad and complete," to spark the many interests of the students. They need a moral education, a place where they can discuss and argue philosophic topics. Fundamental to this program is the development of leadership in all students. They need to be able to express their creative side in poetry, art, music and drama. They need to be physically active. They need a program that embraces hard work, especially the work of the hand.
In Montessori terms we speak of the place where we learn as a prepared environment. We have created in this school a prepared environment, but perhaps the most important place for the developing adolescent is the environment of the Land School, the natural place. It is here that the students can continue to contemplate their cosmic task. It contains a natural place where students can be peaceful, meditate, experience nature; a place where they can experiment, explore, contemplate origins, from the universe, to the natural world, to civilizations and culture. The Land School provides us with the opportunity to come closer to realizing Montessori's vision of the adolescent.
We end our year with a final Odyssey - a five day bike trip through the hills of Minnesota and Wisconsin. This trip allows students to share memories, thoughts, and visions. It is here that they show gratitude and an appreciation for this school which has guided them in finding their cosmic task.
"Adolescence is indeed a time to treasure what one has learned about the cosmos, and one's place in it. It is a time to blossom. It is a time to create a deeply held secret in the crevasses of the heart, of one's unique place in time and space. This is the secret of childhood not lost in its transition to adolescence but rooted in the soul and in the soil." - Pat Schaefer
- Cosmic Education is interconnected and is not subject-based.
- It is child-centered not curriculum centered.
- It is based in trust in your child and trust in Montessori philosophy.
- It is founded in genuine interest and purposeful work.
- It can rarely be revealed in test scores, workbooks, homework or math sheets.
- It requires a three-hour work period during the school day free of unnecessary interruptions.
- It is the seed that is sowed and let to grow. We cannot, must not dig it up to see if it is growing because then we hamper its growth or kill it off all together. It is all that we do to help your child come to find his or her cosmic task!
This article appeared in the Fall 1998 issue of the Lake Country School Courier