Montessori — Cosmic Educational Strategies
The success that the Montessori system of learning has achieved is in part due to the theory of cosmic education and its affect on children. Maria Montessori wrote that the universe is “â€¦an imposing reality, and an answer to all questionsâ€¦ All things are part of the universe and are connected with each other to form one whole unityâ€¦” (To Educate the Human Potential). Moreover, this paper presents — through the literature — how a child can be led to acquire new powers in the process of cultural learning through activities, movements, particularly those that are interesting to him. The Montessori method allows the child (under 6 years of age) to construct useful, culturally-related strategies that will remain with him for all his life.
The Cosmic Educational Experience at Montessori
“Rocks, water, air — solids, liquids, gasses: each is what it is because of its degree temperature,” Maria Montessori explained. This a simple way to approach the universe and the world they live in, according to Mary Hayes’ presentation at the 25th International Montessori Congress in Sydney, Australia. Montessori teachers do not tell children that “â€¦mountains, rivers, the valleys and all those particulars of the planet were created” (Hayes, 2005, p. 3). Rather, the students are told about the scientific facts that all matter exists in three states and that temperature is the catalyst for these three states of matter.
Indeed it was because of the discovery of the laws of nature that humans understand: a) water flows downwards and sideways; b) air rises when it is heated; and c) rocks will wear away in time to create new soil for seeds to grow in. Montessori students are told that plants will then product oxygen for humans and for animals to breathe — and some of the animals live in water, some live in “complete darkness under the earth,” and some animals will become food for other animals. This is the way it works in the cosmic world, and children by the time they are in school have already “â€¦absorbed the immediate environment and the restricted society they and their families have dealings with,” Maria Montessori explained (Hayes, 3). .
So after the children have had their first interaction with the physical world, and attend a Montessori class, the task of a Montessori teacher is to “â€¦try and give the child what he now longs for: an understanding of the world, how it functions and how it affects the life and behavior of humanity” (Hayes quoting Maria Montessori). Once the children understand the basic aspect of cosmic education, the next step is to explain the “house-keeping, or maintenance” of the creation of the planet; this of course is known as pollution, and in Montessori’s Cosmic Education children learn that there must be “service rendered to the environment, service rendered to life, service rendered to humanity” (Hayes, 3).
To demonstrate how rocks can be worn away the teacher uses an acid solution on a tiny piece of marble from an aquarium and as the marble begins to dissolve, the children get it. As part of the cosmic education, the Montessori teacher introduces “material” and “spiritual” fundamental needs for humans. And everything moves forward toward a “predetermined end,” Hayes continues, and while the adult may “modify the environment unconsciously, he/she constructs” houses and buildings from what he/she finds in the environment (Hayes, 8).
Maria Montessori believed that children who receive a Cosmic Education “â€¦are better prepared to enter adolescence as independent, confident, responsible, emotionally intelligent individuals” (Montessori Teacher Training, 2009). With Cosmic Education training those adolescents will be more “â€¦balanced in physical, intellectual and social achievements,” the teacher training blog explains. Cosmic Education does not present the universe as random or objectified, but rather it “â€¦constantly stresses the interconnections between all content areas” including the study of history and culture, and in doing so it transcends “superficial racial and cultural differences” and demonstrates how humans are all “driven by the same set of fundamental human needs” (Montessori Teacher Training, 2009).
Montessori “Living Legend” and noted author Aline Wolf explains that Cosmic Education offers children first “â€¦an all-encompassing sense of the universe with its billions of galaxies”; secondly, cosmic education zeros in on the Milky Way, the solar system and planet earth, including all species of plants and animals “and finally human beings. Inherent in the whole study is the interconnectedness of all creation, the oneness of things” (Wolf, 2004), quoted in Spiritually, Religion, and Peace Education (Brantmeier, et al., 2010, p. 271).
Montessori and Culture
On page 172 of Maria Montessori’s book, The Absorbent Mind, the author asserts that a child’s mind “â€¦can acquire culture at a much earlier age than is generally supposed” but his way of gaining knowledge requires “certain kinds of activity which involve movement” (Montessori, 1995, p. 172). The child is very receptive to new knowledge between three and six years of age, Montessori explains, but he needs activities, motion, and a continuing “thirst for words” will help in obtaining knowledge and culture (175). Since culture is not made up of “â€¦what we see alone,” children are taught that we see with our “mind’s eye,” Montessori explains (175).
Children need something interesting to do and they need for teachers at Montessori to show them how to do it, Montessori explains (180). Showing the child something about culture in precisely the way it should be done attracts him “deeply” — and it keeps him at work because a child instinctively wishes to “co-ordinate his movements and “bring them under control,” Montessori continues (180). Once a child becomes “captivated by a piece of work” that child will repeat the series of movements he found to be successful “time after time,” Montessori writes, adding that “Nothing is more astonishing than to see one of our children engaged in a so-called ‘exercise of practical life'” (180). That child then becomes “â€¦completely absorbed, for example, in polishing a brass vessel”; he will work on it, follow instructions perfectly and once it “shines brilliantly” he will, not bothering to pause, begin the polishing “all over again, and repeating every detail till he has polished the already shining pot several times over!” (180).
What was happening to that child as he repeated the successful polishing activity, Montessori asserts, is he was satisfying an “unconscious need” and as a product of satisfying that need, he was “â€¦laying down in his nervous system an entirely new system of controls,” basically establishing “â€¦fresh co-ordinations between his muscles” that were not acquired through nature but indeed had to be developed by the child (180).
When learning later in life to play tennis or football, that child is more prepared to accept a challenge to acquire a new skill, while going through the same process as he did at 5 years of age by laying down in his nervous system those co-ordinations that satisfy his unconscious need to succeed at something new (180).
Practical Cosmic Activity — Teaching the World’s Physical Environment
Author David Gettman (Basic Montessori: Learning Activities for Under-Fives) presents a geography activity that is a component of the cosmic education theme and is incorporated into the Montessori learning strategies. This activity utilizes a “land and water globe,” that represents the earth’s surface, and the globe features land — made with a sandpaper surface — and water (painted blue in a smooth surface). Gettman explains point-by-tedious point how to create the globe and how to show the Montessori child that basically the physical properties of Planet Earth consists of land and water.
Along with the land and water globe, the Montessori lesson uses four pairs of deep metal trays, and in each pair of trays features a “particular land formation and its converse water formation,” and is presented to the child (Gettman, 1987, 189). For example one pair might feature an island and a lake, another pair may show an isthmus and a strait, and still another would show a peninsula and a gulf (Gettman, 189). In the trays the land is created using Plaster of Paris (into the raised shape of mountains) and the bottom of the tray is painted blue and sunken juxtaposed with the brown land shapes made of Plaster of Paris. There are a number of additional particulars that go along with this cosmic activity, but the bottom line for the Montessori teacher is to introduce the child to the globe: “We live on earth. This globe is much smaller than the Earth, but it shows you what the earth looks like” (Gettman, 189).
The child is encouraged to feel the “land” (the rough, sandpaper portion of the globe), where “there is dry ground to stand on”; then the child is asked to feel the smooth, blue portions of the globe, “where fish swim and boats sail.” The child is then introduced to islands, peninsulas, and is shown an isthmus and a strait, and a learning activity is well underway. In fact this exercise leads to a desire by the child to observe and investigate further, not just into the oceans and mountains of Earth, but to develop a sense of the hypothetical. For example, a child might well wonder: a) what kinds of fish swim in a lake that is found in the mountains; b) how do nomads live in a place that is covered in sand as far as the eye can see; and c) what do people do when they live in the mountains?
In conclusion, Montessori has a wonderfully successful track record for engaging children in learning strategies that help them when they are young, and more importantly, provide the basis for cultural understanding and behaviors later in life. Cosmic education establishes the ground floor — sets the table — for a child’s understanding / comprehension of the planet and the universe, which is a brilliantly conceived learning strategy unique to Montessori. It is puzzling as to why traditional public schools don’t incorporate similar cosmic lesson plans in their classrooms. Perhaps there are progressive schools and teachers in public and private schools that are indeed using techniques for learning that Montessori developed, and if so, more power to those children.
Brantmeier, Edward J. Lin, Jing, and Miller, John P. (2010). Spirituality, Religion, and Peace
Education. Charlotte, NC: IAP.
Gettman, David. (1987). Basic Montessori: Learning Activities for Under-Fives. New York:
Hayes, Mary. (2005). Montessori’s View of Cosmic Education / 25th International Montessori
Congress, Sydney 2005. Retrieved December 13, 2011, from http://www.montessori-ami.org/congress/2005sydney/papermh.htm.
Montessori, Maria. (1995). The Absorbent Mind. New York: Macmillian.
Montessori Teacher Training. (2009). Montessori and Cosmic Education. Retrieved December
13, 2011, from http://montessoritraining.blogspot.com/2009/02/montessori-and-cosmic-education.html.
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