N turned 6 so we’re slowly moving from primary to lower elementary level. In Montessori elementary classes start a new school-year with Great Lessons. These are supposed to intrigue children and invite them to explore deeper the covered subjects.
I like a lot the idea of Great Lessons and how they are presented to children so I decided to incorporate them to our learning. In general they are thought for N, but S was invited to listen and he likes them a lot and V also participated though completely not invited and even encouraged to play in his room. He’s only 2yo and quite… distracting.
In my course we didn’t cover Great Lessons so it was quite difficult for me to prepare them. I didn’t want to purchase any new albums at the moment and had no time to participate in yet another course. So my whole knowledge about the subject comes from researching webpages and blogs.
The First Great Lesson is called “God with no hands”, it was told by Maria Montessori and later written down by her son Mario. We decided to change the story according to current knowledge and our beliefs so we used “The Beginning” version. I used the original structure of the traditional lesson and most of experiments (I change the order of some though). On a lot of pages I read comments that one should say ‘her own’ version of the story not the one provided by someone else. It was obviously very annoying and demotivating when I had to create one for us, but after the first experience from presenting the lesson I completely agree on the matter. We have to be really confident about what we’re telling. I based my story mostly on the version from Miss Barbara page (she was kind enough to provide very detailed information on the Great Lessons, I strongly recommend taking a look at her page). I also didn’t use the traditional charts (I didn’t want to buy them and I’m not good in drawing/painting). Instead I used photos I found on-line.
“The Beginning” covers the creation of the Universe from Big Bang to the moment when Earth is ready for the life to begin. Among the possible subjects which can be studied afterwards are the astronomy, chemistry, physics, geology, geography and meteorology.
Most commonly the First Great Lesson is presented on the very first day of school and is repeated every year. Since we spent September in Poland and after coming back home we had to unpack all of the boxes after removal, I postponed the lesson till mid-October when kids were already a bit more settled at home and in our morning routine.
I don’t have a lot of photos from conducting the lesson (and those that I do have are dark and of bad quality – it was a gloomy day and sun rises late here) as I concentrated on telling the story and experiments.
This is how everything was set up before the lesson. In the left upper corner there’s a black balloon with golden glitter inside (for the Big Bang) – just before the lesson I had to change the balloon as air escaped from the first one (seen on the photo). Then we have a candle with matches, tray for the force of attraction demonstration, globe, sand and photos of the Earth to Sun size comparison, three states of matter demonstration (first jar is opened as it still had no ice cube inside, I left it like this not to forget to put the cube just before we start), a broken stone for a solid state demonstration, jar with chocolate balls for the liquid state demonstration (they were a hit – after the lesson kids obviously ate them), spray deodorant for gas demonstration, 3 liquids (honey, water and olive oil) for the liquids settle according to their weight presentation, photos of volcanoes and in the right bottom corner there’s a volcano we made few days earlier covered with a black material – the volcano eruption was a surprise for children. In the photo there are no items for the states of matter and heat presentation as they were in the kitchen.
I thought that kids would love the balloon Big Bang but actually S (4yo) was afraid because of the sudden noise. We also ended up covered by a glitter as I inflated the balloon too much. It was good for the presentation but our house was shining like a galaxy for several days. Next year I plan to do this part in the garden.
While S was very interested and listened carefully, it was difficult for N to follow the lesson. She was disappointed that I was “only telling the story” and did the demonstrations myself. Well, they are not used to listen to long ‘lessons’ and they were still in the acclimatization period. I tried to let them do as much as possible, but at the same time wanted to keep the story going. It was my first time presenting Great Lesson, I also have to learn a lot.
For state of matter and the heat demonstration I used an ice cube, a wax crayon and a nail. We didn’t wait until the nail started to melt as I preferred not to burn the house, but there was a moment when we could perfectly see as in the same temperature one object was already in the gas state (water), one was in liquid state (melting crayon) and one was still a solid (nail).
The volcano was obviously a big hit. I put the baking soda and the washing-up liquid before we started the lesson so during the presentation I only had to add the vinegar. Although I added really a lot of red food colouring there must have happened some reactions (with this particular soda and this particular washing-up liquid) that our lava was at first green instead of red :) I guess it waited inside the volcano for too long. Nevertheless kids really enjoyed this part and we repeated the volcano eruption many times afterwards.
And this is a photo of a final mess and let it be a warning for you ;-) I really need to rethink the way of presenting the lesson. Since there’s only four of us I will probably make more “stations” where next demonstrations will take place and we will move from one to another.
When preparing our lesson I used these pages:
- Miss Barbara with detailed information on each lesson including the story, materials needed and follow-up activities
- Montessori for Everyone with information on purpose of the lessons, short description of each of them and list of topics which can be studied afterwards
- What DID We Do All Day with beautiful photos of materials used for each of the demonstrations/experiments
- Montessori Teachers Collective with the original story written down by Mario Montessori and drawings of charts and demonstrations used during the lesson
- Montessori Commons with the storyline and a lot of additional information and how and when to present the lesson as well as with list of experiments and follow-up activities
I also watched several videos on youtube to see how the lessons look like in a classroom setting. Here are two of the videos for the First Great Lesson:
You can also visit my Great Lessons pinterest board: